16/01/2012 06:56 GMT | Updated 22/05/2015 06:12 BST

Too Many Under-18s Locked Up - Including One Jailed For Throwing Sugar Puffs

Child in young offender unit PA

A think tank has called for the youth justice system to be overhauled after it was revealed that thousands of kids are being locked up 'needlessly' - with one put in a young offenders' institution for throwing SUGAR PUFFS at a care worker.

The Centre for Social Justice claims many young offenders' units are being used to care for children who have been failed by social services.

The number of children currently behind bars is 5,000, at a cost of between £69,600 and £193,000 per place.

In its latest report, the CSJ says that under-18s should only be locked up for the most serious crimes, with common sense being used to deal with other misdemeanours.

The report claims that three out of four child criminals go on to commit further offences within a year of being released from young offenders' units. It says reforms need to go 'further and deeper'.

Gavin Poole, the CSJ's executive director, says the review "in no means seeks to excuse the behaviour" of those imprisoned but adds that "if society wants to see youth crime tackled it must be prepared to make greater efforts to understand and address its drivers."

He continued: "As a society, we can do better than simply condemn these children for their crimes. We believe there are more effective and demanding ways of delivering justice than through punishment alone.

"Many young people fall into the system unnecessarily and do not receive the help they need to free themselves from it. Custody is sometimes neither a protective nor a productive place for children, and community orders can be equally ineffective.

"Moreover, despite years of good intentions, many young people leaving custody are still not being provided with the basic support they need for rehabilitation.

"Many of these young people consequently become the life-long persistent offenders who are saturating our adult prisons."

A spokesperson from the Ministry of Justice said prosecution is not always the best option for "low level youth crime" and that key reforms are underway.

What do you think? Are too many youngsters locked up?