Youth Justice: the minister’s view

Since I became Minister of State at the Ministry of Justice last May I have been working with Ken Clarke and the other Ministers within the department to make radical changes to the criminal justice system. Our plans are about finding out what works – the methods of rehabilitation and punishment which actually reduce crime.

One of the key aspects of this vision is preventing and tackling offending by young people. In England and Wales the number of children aged 10 to 17 grew rapidly during the course of the 1990s and into the second term of the Labour government in office.

Thankfully in more recent years there has been a decrease in the number of children in custody, but there is still much work to be done. It is worrying that around £300 million of the Youth Justice Board’s budget, just shy of two thirds of the total budget, was spent on the secure estate. The use of custodial remand is currently too high and we are keen to see this addressed. Spending on youth remand could be better used to develop local solutions which would be more cost effective in the long term, and allow young people to be diverted away from a potentially unnecessary period in custody.

The Government is committed to maintaining a dedicated focus on the needs of children and young people in the youth justice system. The current youth justice system is based on local Youth Offending Teams (YOTs) who deliver youth justice on the ground by bringing together the local authority, police, probation and health to tackle youth offending. YOTs play a key role and we intend to bolster them. It makes sense to put our trust in professionals who are working with young people on the ground, so we will be enhancing the frontline services delivered to young people by YOTs.

We will deliver more effective community punishments to deal with anti-social behaviour and the failure to follow earlier community orders. We will build on the work that is already being done to divert young people from the courts and short sentences, because we know short sentences are not always effective. Informal interventions could be much more effective in making young people face up to the consequences of their actions and prevent further reoffending.

More needs to be done to encourage the kind of integrated and cross-agency working needed to tackle offending at a local level. We want to incentivise local partners to collaborate and align their priorities – for example through the community budgets for families with multiple problems that were announced as part of the spending review.

The main challenge before us is not just to stop those already in the criminal justice system from re-offending, but to try to stop young people from ending up in contact with the youth justice system. I am confident that the more community-based approach to youth justice that we’re working to achieve in the MoJ will help to achieve this.

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