Young Offender: a person under 18 who has broken the law
- Children under the age of 10 cannot be charged with a criminal offence. Parents can be held responsible instead. Theoretically parents can be fined or even imprisoned for the actions of their children.
- Children under the age of 18 are classed as young offenders. Once over 10 they can be charged and punished under the law.
- Minor offences will not be taken to court, though may still result in a criminal record.
- Offences that do make it to court are dealt with in a YOUTH COURT, a division of the Magistrates Court. They are not tried by jury in a criminal or Crown court.
- If given custodial sentences they will not be sent to a normal prison. They will be sent to either a secure training centre (basically a school that you can’t leave!); a secure children’s home (separating children from their parents where parents are deemed to be bad influences or poor role models) or a Young Offenders Institute run by the Prison Service. Under 18s are kept in separate wings away from those over 18.
- Those found guilty of serious crimes when very young may be released at 18 or serve shorter sentences as they are deemed not to be fully responsible for their actions. Jon Venables and Robert Thompson, who killed the four-year-old Jamie Bulger when they were both 11, were released from the Young Offenders Institute at 18 and given new identities. Jon Venables has returned to prison accused of other crimes.
Britain has one of the highest rates of young people in custody anywhere in Europe. Many people argue that it is not an effective way of helping young people to re-enter society and REHABILITATE. For example, many blame experiences inside prison for the offences committed by Jon Venables after he was released and argue that it would not have happened if he had been given a non-custodial sentence.
The Church of England (Christian) in particular has joined calls to end custodial sentences for young people but so far this has been rejected by the Home Office.