Centre welcomes proposals to raise age of criminal responsibility and calls for care, not custody for girls with poor mental health

03 March 2012

“We support the Howard League’s call to lift the age of criminal responsibility to 14. Young women are much less likely to offend than young males and their crimes tend towards minor misdemeanours. However, research shows that girls offend at a younger age and that this early contact with the youth justice system can actually increase the chances of re-offending, undermine their future life chances and create greater costs to the public purse in the long term.”

Centre for Mental Health chief executive Sean Duggan said today, welcoming proposals from MP’s and peers to raise the age of criminal responsibility, in a briefing released by the Howard League for Penal Reform on the findings of The All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Women in the Penal System.

“Girls in the youth justice system are three times more likely to suffer from poor mental health than boys of the same age. It’s vital that we build on activity to divert vulnerable girls away from the youth justice system at the earliest stage of their contact with the police, and towards appropriate forms of care and support so that they can get the help they need.”

Duggan said, calling for more action to divert girls away from the youth justice system and particularly from custody.

A recent study of young women in UK Youth Offender Institutions suggested that 71% had ‘some level’ of psychiatric disturbance, a number which rose to 86% when ‘long-standing’ disorders were included. Girls in the youth justice system are also more likely to be using harmful levels of drugs and alcohol, to be at risk of sexual exploitation and to have other physical health problems.  Research also shows that the peak age for offending for young females is lower (15 years) than for young males (17-18 years).

“Evidence also tells us that the outward signs of girls’ emotional distress, for example behavioural difficulties, anger, running away and sexual promiscuity, can often be misread and overlooked by professionals. Young women with multiple and complex mental health, health and social needs ‘cluster’ in custody because opportunities are missed to divert them away from the system and into well-coordinated wraparound and support.”

Read the briefing here

The Centre was one of a number of groups who submitted evidence to the APPG inquiry on girls. See the full list of organisations and individuals here.