Reform of the Youth Justice System
In 2007, the average monthly number of persons under the age of 18 held in custody was 2909. Today that average monthly figure is about 900. Generally far fewer young people are brought into the criminal justice system than was the case 10 years ago.
At first sight it might seem that these dramatic falls in numbers – which do not get much publicity – should be a good news story. But it is not as simple as the. The figures mask other problems about the overall state of the youth justice system. Once children and young people are in custody the outcomes are not good enough. Levels of violence and self-harm are too great and reoffending rates are unacceptably high. 69% of those sentenced to custody going on to commit further offences within a year of their release.
This raises questions about what more can be done to ensure that young people do not enter the system in the first place, and if they do are given every opportunity to turn their lives around by receiving appropriate education and training to enable them to start leading productive lives in society.
The Government has taken a number of measure to address these problems.
In 2016, they commissioned Charlie Taylor – a former head teacher and child care expert – to undertake a review of the Youth justice system. His report was published in December 2016. The Government’s response to his report was published on the same day.
In a written statement to Parliament on 24 February, the Government now announced the next steps it is taking in response to that review.
First, it has appointed Charlie Taylor to be the new Chair of the Youth Justice Board – so that he can oversee the reforms he advocated.
Second the Government has announced that a new Youth Custody Service is to be established as a distinct arm of HM Prison and Probation Service, with a dedicated Director accountable directly to the Chief Executive.
Third there has been (yet another) review of the physical estate used for the detention of under 18s. It states bluntly that the time for reports is over – all those who know about this accept that the estate is not up to modern standards. What is needed is action to improve the estate.
Perhaps by comparison with the huge problems facing the prison service more generally – which new proposals for reform of the prison system are designed to address – youth justice is an issue on which it is hard to attract attention from the mass media. But it seems plausible to suggest that if you get the youth justice system working effectively, you may be able to reduce some of the pressures that might arise further down the line.
The Charlie Wilson Review is at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/review-of-the-youth-justice-system
The Government response to the report is at the same page.
A summary of the Justice Secretary’s statement to Parliament is at https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/youth-justice-update.
The report on the youth justice estate is at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/youth-custody-improvement-board-findings-and-recommendations