Cuts in services could see a rise in the number of children being handed custodial sentences, the Youth Justice Board (YJB) has said.
The organisation has seen its budget cut in half since 2010 and it is understood that the Ministry of Justice will be making further efficiency savings later this year.
The board believes that the continued austerity measures will ultimately harm attempts to reduce the offending rates of under 18s.
In a letter to Justice Secretary Michael Gove, the YJB’s chief executive Lin Hinnigan said that further cuts would have a detrimental effect on the efforts of local teams to steer children and teenagers away from crime.
“This could lead to a reversal of the positive trends we have seen over recent years,” she wrote.
“This would see more young people coming into the system, rising costs for police, courts and other justice agencies, and, ultimately, risk increasing custodial populations, which would mean new places in secure establishments must be commissioned.”
In stark contrast to the number of adults behind bars, which has been steadily rising, the young prison population has been falling for a number of years.
Today there are around 1,000 under 18s serving custodial sentences – a third of the number ten years ago.
The argument of ministers is that the falling caseload is part of the reason that budgets need to be reviewed and they dispute the suggestion that this strategy will undo previous successes.
A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: “We must find savings in order to cut the deficit and bring the nation into surplus. No part of the department can be immune from that effort.
“We remain committed to preventing youth offending and making sure young people and their families receive the support they need.”
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