Youth jail 'should be last resort'
Young criminals with only "minor" offences to their name should be given a clean sheet at the age of 18, a report by an influential group of MPs says.
The law should be changed to ensure only the most serious and prolific young offenders are locked up, the House of Commons Justice Committee said.
And children in care should stop being criminalised for "trivial incidents", the committee said, such as one boy who was taken to court for breaking a cup.
The committee found that despite the number of under-18s in custody falling by 40% since 2008/09, the Youth Justice Board spent nearly two-thirds of its budget on locking up young offenders in 2011/12.
"Youth custody should only be used in cases of genuine last resort," committee chair Sir Alan Beith said.
The committee said the Government should consider changing the law to "erase" convictions and out-of-court disposals, such as cautions, from the record of "very early, minor and non-persistent offenders" when they turn 18-years-old.
It also recommended introducing a statutory threshold, based on Canadian laws, to ensure that only the most serious and prolific young offenders are locked up. Canadian legislation protects young offenders from being jailed unless they have committed a violent offence or failed to comply with an earlier non-custodial sentence.
England and Wales still has one of the highest rates of child imprisonment in Western Europe, the committee warned, but 73% of young offenders sentenced to custody go on to reoffend.
Children in care and care leavers were being criminalised unnecessarily, the committee said, as it heard evidence of "trivial incidents" that had sparked calls to the police.
The Prison Reform Trust told the committee that police were called out to a care home when a boy broke some crockery, while it also came across a case where a boy ended up in court for throwing a pair of socks out of a window.