My right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton (Ed Balls) and I welcome the report published today, “Safeguarding the Future: A Review of the Youth Justice Board’s Governance and Operating Arrangements” (the YJB Review). This highlights the significant improvements in youth justice since 1998, as well as making important recommendations for the future. We are grateful to Dame Sue Street and Frances Done for their thoughtful and thorough analysis.
The creation of the Youth Justice Board (YJB) and pioneering multi-agency youth offending teams through the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 is described by the YJB Review as “amongst the most significant [reforms] ever made to the criminal justice system”. The 1998 Act brought co-ordination and consistency to the previously ineffective and disparate system that was so heavily criticised by the 1996 Audit Commission report, “Misspent Youth”. Crucially, for the first time it put in place a distinct, formal structure for dealing with young offenders.
Now, instead of pulling in different directions, the police, social services, schools and local authorities are working closely together to protect the public through prevention and where that fails, punishment and reform. One key focus is on tackling problems before they are allowed to take root, challenging bad behaviour before it escalates.
At the same time, there are also serious consequences for those who do offend. Custody must remain an option open to sentencers for serious and persistent offenders or those who fail to respond to other interventions. We have also expanded the range of community punishments to hold young offenders to account where appropriate and to make them give redress to the communities they have wronged.
All this work is underpinned by the £100 million youth crime action plan, which has already impacted on more than 300,000 young people, as well as a new sentencing framework, the “Youth Rehabilitation Order”, which combines rigorous punishment with interventions to help young offenders to reform.
The evidence suggests that this approach is having an effect: the number of young people entering the criminal justice system has fallen by over 12 per cent. between 2000-01 and 2008-09; the frequency rate of reoffending has fallen by nearly a quarter between 2000-2008; and, the number of young people sentenced to immediate custody has also fallen significantly over this period.
This progress is encouraging. The Youth Justice Board has played an important part, for which it deserves credit. However, we want to achieve a further step change: fewer victims, less reoffending, the best outcomes delivered across the country. That is why we commissioned a review of the Youth Justice Board in September 2009, and why we accept the review’s message that the YJB needs to achieve a stronger grip on performance, provide clearer direction, and give the best value for public money. The current leadership have shown themselves to be ready to rise to this challenge. We accept the review’s recommendation that the board should build on its strengths and reinvigorate its role.
As today’s report highlights, protecting the public must be clearly recognised as the first priority within an integrated approach that improves outcomes for young people. This is central to our approach to justice. We accept the recommendation that the YJB should further emphasise and publicise its role in protecting the public from youth crime.
The review makes clear the importance of strong partnership working between the YJB and central Government and makes a number of important recommendations to strengthen this further. We will seek to implement these immediately, building on the successful work through the youth crime action plan. We agree that the Home Office should have greater involvement in that partnership working with the YJB and its sponsoring departments.
We will now develop proposals for putting into practice all the review’s recommendations. We will examine how to achieve the Youth Justice Board's purpose and objectives with the best value for money for the tax-paying public and publish a detailed response in the summer.
We will build on our success in preventing crime and reducing reoffending. The Youth Justice Board will continue to ensure there are sufficient places in secure accommodation for the most serious, persistent young offenders. And where there are weaknesses in performance, the board will focus considerable attention on monitoring and raising standards in local areas, on holding local authorities and providers of youth justice services to account, and on spreading best practice across the country. The review makes clear that there is more to do in this respect. We accept that and will immediately work with the YJB to ensure it happens. The board will be strengthened in its role through provisions in the Children, Schools and Families Bill which give the Government the power to intervene directly in poorly performing youth offending teams.
The best partnership working should be shared and built upon across the country. No one should be left in any doubt about the importance attached to protecting people from becoming victims of crime and in holding the perpetrators to account.