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'Too many young offenders locked up'.

A CHILDREN'S charity has warned imprisoning young offenders "does more harm than good" after new figures revealed 35 children aged 14 and under were locked up in Wales last year.

Barnardo's has spoken out against the high custody rate claiming that in most cases alternative forms of punishment could be used.

While it also claimed the Labour government chose to put behind bars youngsters who do not fit its own criteria for custody.

Statistics published yesterday by the Youth Justice Board show there are 397 juveniles imprisoned in Wales. The youngest offender is just 11 years old while there are six children aged 13 and 28 aged 14 in custody.

The charity's assistant director of policy and research Enver Solomon said its research showed many of these children are not violent or dangerous.

He added while they are sometimes guilty of the least serious summary offences they are often punished more severely than adults who are rarely imprisoned for the same crime.

"In the vast amount of cases, the punishment does not fit the crime. We're not saying young offenders should be let off lightly, but custody does more harm than good."

According to UK law, children aged 14 and under should not be sent to custody unless they have committed a "grave or serious" offence and are deemed to be a persistent offender.

Elfyn Llwyd, Plaid Cymru's parliamentary leader, also questioned whether all of the 35 offenders aged 14 and under in Wales needed to have been put into custody.

"The figure seems a bit on the high side to me because I do not recall seeing any particularly grave or serious cases in Wales," he said.

Mr Llwyd, MP for Dwyfor Meirionnydd, added the Government needed to think more creatively if it really wanted to reduce the level of crime committed by young offenders.

A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said imprisoning young offenders was the best way to them turning to a lifetime of crime.

"The costs of failure include a prison population growing at an unsustainable rate while public confidence in the system continues to ebb away.

"The Government is determined to under take full scale reform of the police and criminal justice system to give protection to the public and change the schools and the welfare system to provide young people with the chance of a better life."
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:May 28, 2010
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