Dear Crispin Blunt MP,
My name is Harrison Carter; I am a Member of the UK Youth Parliament forSheffieldand am writing this letter on behalf of the young people I represent both locally and nationally.
I’m writing to you to express concern over the abolition of the Youth Justice Board, the transfer of its authority to the Ministry of Justice, and the localisation of Custodial Budgets. There is a belief amongst representatives of young people that such moves will only act to scupper previous attempts to reduce first time offending and re-offending rates. There is also concern expressed that this move was part of a ‘bonfire of quangos’. Hence playing a part in reducing the money going out to semi-independent organisations with no thought of the work those organisations did, particularly in supporting young people.
It is vital, in a time of uncertainty, to protect young people, not only those who are law-abiding, but also those that commit crimes. The common logic is that through support and rehabilitation, young people are dissuaded from committing further acts of crime. Instead, they would choose a more wholesome path through life, in employment, training or education and as such provide the economic sustenance and wide skill base so needed in this country. Does the ministry not accept that moves to change the established structure of support for young people who commit crime will only cause further uncertainty and anxiety in the system?
The Youth Justice Board played a necessary role in commissioning a number of Youth Offending Institutions that were regarded as being of a high standard. Furthermore, their remit covered the analysis and assessment of other secure establishments for young people carrying out custodial sentences. They were praised for making custody a much safer place for young people. Even by the Howard League for Penal Reform who in the past had criticised the organisation for not doing enough to protect young people in prison. Is it not the case that such a task could not be carried out as robustly, vigorously and independently by staff in the Ministry and thus this action go someway to reduce the safety and care of those young people in custody?
The think-tank Policy Exchange released a paper last year that claimed that the scrapping of the Youth Justice Board would save an estimated £100m over four years. The need to protect young people in custody, and the necessity of working as hard as ever to reduce offending rates remain the same. Does this steep and swift reduction in spending indicate a decline in the Ministry’s priorities about this policy area? Will we not expect an increase in the number of young offenders and hence an increase in the number of lives lost because support mechanisms that were so vital, could not be put in place?
It was widely reported in 2009 that the Youth Justice Board was undergoing a review, with the view of slimming down its services, making a reduction in its staff on role, but keeping it as a central regulatory body at arms-length from other government operations. This idea now seems to have taken a back seat as the government now favour the localisation of custodial budgets, which risks a postcode lottery in terms of funding for specific custodial priorities. With no national guidelines or regulator, there is anxiety amongst those working in youth justice that a quality differential between different local authority areas will be present. With no centralised body publishing official guidelines, based on independent work, isn’t there a risk that quality differences will not be brought to the fore? Hence the same sentence in terms of longevity may seem a harsher sanction, if young people are exposed to poorer, more unsafe conditions.
I would set the Government three recommendations:
1) To convince people that the need to move YJB operations into the Ministry is not as a result of budget constraints. Instead that the move is to prioritise and concentrate more closely on offending rates amongst young people and safety in custodial accommodation.
2) That there will be a central organisation – albeit in the Ministry – that will look at custodial budgets, setting national guidelines from which Local Authority can set the correct amount of money to facilities and other areas.
3) Once the transition of responsibility has finished from YJB to the Ministry that a yearly review of the procedures in place is taken. This would be to ensure that the best interests of the young people in the justice system are kept at the heart of any decisions taken. And that rehabilitation, recuperation and bringing people back to a normal, law-abiding way of going about their lives, takes precedence over trying to make examples of their behaviour.
I look forward to hearing from you in the near future,
Member of UK Youth Parliament for Sheffield