The research for the Youth Justice Board found that reoffending risk factors around family and personal relationships, education, and training and employment, reduced more for young offenders serving longer sentences than those serving six months or less.
Prison staff also cast doubt on the effectiveness of shorter sentences, with one in three stating that they offered “insufficient time for staff to build strong relationships” or provide “appropriate and effective” interventions.
The report said that these findings, coupled with previous research on short sentences and evidence that intensive community punishment results in lower reoffending rates, meant that alternatives should be considered.
“Options could include increasing the minimum length of a detention and training order to 12 months, alongside a higher custody threshold and replacing sentences of six months or less with community-based alternatives,” the report states.
The government has previously expressed a desire to move away from handing young people shorter sentences, through strengthening community options.
Andrew Neilson, director of campaigns at the Howard League for Penal Reform, said the research shows that short-term prison sentences are “failing children”.
“Effective community sentences that work with children to help them turn their backs on crime are the solution,” he said.
“Warehousing children in a prison filled with other troubled young people, often for a period of weeks, is counterproductive, inhumane and a pitiful waste of public money.
“We could not agree more with the report’s conclusions. Custody should be reserved for the very few children who need some time in a secure environment.
“It is high time that we moved towards a system where we are no longer needlessly locking up the potential of so many children.”
The research was based on a survey of 1,245 young people approaching the end of a custodial sentence, an analysis of administrative records, and 42 in-depth interviews with secure estate staff.