Anyone under 18 who is sentenced to custody is sent to a secure centre for children, not to an adult prison.

This guidance is about the youth justice system in England and Wales. Read about youth justice in Scotland and youth justice in Northern Ireland.

Why children are sent to custody

A court can give a child a custodial sentence if the offence is so serious that they cannot justify a fine or a community sentence.

A child can also be sent to custody on remand.

The Youth Custody Service will decide which secure centre a child will be sent to, based on:

  • an assessment and recommendation made by the Youth Justice Service
  • the child’s needs
  • the child’s age and sex

They will choose somewhere that is:

  • best suited to caring for the child
  • as near to their home as possible