Youth justice

We are required to have particular regard in our work to the rights of children and young people at risk of having their rights infringed. One of those at risk groups are children in the youth justice system, in particular those in custody. Children in the youth justice system mostly come from the most deprived and disadvantaged families and communities. Many will have experienced neglect, abuse, domestic violence, poor parenting and poor educational opportunities.

We know from our work that behavioural and mental health difficulties, learning disabilities and conduct disorders are prevalent among these children. Although the numbers of children in the youth justice system are declining, England continues to have greater numbers than any other country in Europe.

Our ongoing commitments

  • We are a member of the UK’s National Preventive Mechanism (NPM), designated under the UN Convention Against Torture to monitor and prevent torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment against people in detention.  
  • We are responsible for co-ordinating and chairing the children and young people's subgroup of the NPM.
  • We make regular visits to the youth justice secure estate in England (young offenders’ institutions, secure training centres and secure children’s homes) using our powers under section 2E Children Act 2004 giving feedback to institutions, the Youth Justice Board (YJB) and others and promoting good practice
  • We input into the youth justice policy process
  • We are represented on the Ministerial Council on Deaths in Custody
  • We have observer status on the Standing Committee for Youth Justice.

Our priorities

  • Segregation in the youth justice system

We will commence a project on segregation in the youth justice secure estate, which will report in 2015.

  • Secure colleges

We will continue to have input into the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill as it goes through Parliament, and into other aspects of the Government’s plans for secure colleges.

  • Programme of visits

We will continue our programme of visits to the youth justice secure estate.

Our youth justice work

  • Mental health and the youth justice system

We published I think I must have been born bad, which found that support for the emotional wellbeing and good mental health of children in the youth justice system was inconsistent. The recommendations for improved practice which were taken forward by the Government and the Youth Justice Board (YJB). Four Government departments produced an action plan in response to the recommendations in I think I must have been born bad

  • Neurodisability

We jointly hosted a roundtable with the Royal College of Psychiatrists on the impact of neurodisability based on the findings of our report.

  • Programme of visits to secure estate

These visits have led to a number of improvements for children and young people including stopping routine strip searches of children and the implementation of an action plan agreed with the Department of Health, Ministry of Justice, Youth Justice Board and National Offender Management Service which led to breakfast packs being phased out and a review into both the timing of meals and the quality and quantity of food.



Our work on youth justice has particular focus and relevance to the following Articles of the UNCRC: 37, 29 and 40.

Find out more about the UNCRC.

Learn more about our work on child sexual abuse...

Below are some questions about youth justice. You can find more questions and information on our Get Advice pages.