02/11/2011 20:17 GMT | Updated 02/01/2012 05:12 GMT

Young Offenders Need More Support in Custody

A recent report by the Chief Inspector of Prisons and the Youth Justice Board has revealed a bleak portrait of life after incarceration for young offenders.

We have known for a long time that offenders tend to have a wide range of problems, including poor mental health, drug and alcohol misuse and low levels of literacy and numeracy.

But by far the most interesting finding in the report, in my opinion, was that the young offenders surveyed said having a job would stop them reoffending - but that they did not know who to contact to prepare for the jobs market ahead of, and after, leaving prison.

What's clear is that addressing all these problems, social, health and jobs-related, is key to reducing the risk of offending and reoffending after release. If not, we will be simply be talking about the same thing in years to come.

With the current cost of keeping someone in prison around £40,000 per year, there is a financial as well as a societal reward to reducing reoffending, too.

At any one time, there are in the region of 70,000 offenders on short-term sentences whose lives can be turned around, but if their problems go unaddressed there is a significant chance that they will go on to reoffend. And so we enter a vicious circle.

The irony is that there are numerous organisations and services across the country that can provide vital support and the necessary information about the types of help available.

Information should be provided automatically, as part of the rehabilitation process, within prisons and continue on release through probation and in the community. As well as helping support offenders it would save huge amounts of time for offender managers. But often it is not.

The problem, all too often, is that this information is gathered in a random and unstructured way across the country. The resultant duplication wastes huge amounts of money and doesn't help, as this evidence shows, these vulnerable youngsters connect to the organisations that could offer the necessary support.

What is needed is a standard way of collecting and maintaining a comprehensive database which is accurate and up-to-date and which serves the whole country.

It requires collaboration at both national and local levels between key organisations, principally the third sector ones, who are already working in this area. What's encouraging is that the Ministry of Justice are also keen to learn how this might work to best effect, both within the prison environment and beyond.

In future, the hope is that we can support young offenders by providing signposting services and quality information before they leave prison, because this infrastructure is unfortunately not in place and urgently needs to be.