Dear Mr Harrison Carter,
Thank you for your letter of 15 September to Crispin Blunt, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Prisons, Probation and Youth Justice, regarding the Government’s intention to abolish the Youth Justice Board (YJB). This intention is subject to the passage of the Public Bodies Bill. Your letter has been passed to the Youth Justice Policy Unit which has the responsibility for setting youth justice policy and is the sponsor unit for the YJB.
This Government is committed to reducing the number of public bodies and believes that youth justice, which can in some cases involve the detention of children, is an issue for which Ministers – not unelected persons or an arm’s length body – should be directly accountable. When the YJB was established in 2000 the government needed an organisation that was able to establish and lead reforms to the delivery of youth justice. A decade on, the delivery of youth justice is now firmly embedded in local areas and within a distinct secure estate for young people. As a consequence, the key functions of the YJB can be satisfactorily delivered by government.
It is the government’s belief that the abolition of the YJB will not have an adverse impact on the delivery of youth justice on the ground. Youth Offending Teams and a distinct secure estate for young people will remain in place and will not be abolished. It is the Government’s intention to carry out the main functions of the YJB within a newly created Youth Justice Division in the Ministry of Justice (MoJ). The Division will be led by John Drew, the current Chief Executive of the YJB, and will sit outside of the National Offender Management Service (NOMS). The Youth Justice Division will continue this government’s focus on meeting the needs of children and young people in the youth justice system and will deliver the main functions of the YJB – overseeing the delivery of youth justice services, identifying and disseminating effective practice, commissioning a distinct secure estate and placing young people in custody.
The decision to abolish the YJB was not made for financial reasons but to increase direct Ministerial accountability for this key area. By bringing youth justice closer to ministers, the new Youth Justice Division will be a powerful impetus behind future improvement. In the current climate, in which other Departments have a wide range of priorities and scarcer resources, it is ministers in the MoJ, led by the Justice Secretary and Crispin Blunt, as the minister with responsibility for youth justice, who are best placed to lead the youth justice system. This leadership role will include working with other departments to develop properly co-ordinated policies that will help young people, who have offended or who are at risk of offending, turn their lives around.
In your letter, you also expressed concern that the Government was prioritising reductions in public expenditure, at the expense of the interests of young people. The government’s proposal in respect of the financial arrangements for the detention of young people, aged 12-17, in the secure estate relate to remands only. It does not cover those who have been sentenced to custody. Local authorities already share the costs of some remands to secure accommodation for young people and we now propose to give local authorities responsibility for the budget for all remands. This new responsibility will be accompanied by an associated transfer of funding to local government which requires careful planning and flexibility over time. We do not propose to decentralise the YJB’s existing administrative or regulatory functions in respect of the youth secure estate.
The government has proposed changes to the funding arrangements because we consider the current level of secure remands of young people to be too high. The use of secure accommodation has a part to play in the youth justice system for those young people who commit the most serious offences. However, too many young people whose offences are not the most serious and whose behaviour does not pose a risk to the public are placed in secure accommodation. Around 28% of the total youth custodial population are on remand. Evidence shows that 57% of young offenders on remand do not go on to receive a custodial sentence. While the costs of these are met centrally, local authorities lack the incentive to address this consistently acrossEnglandandWales.
As regards the concern you raised that there was a risk that quality differences in the performance of local authorities could arise in the absence of any centralised body to publish official guidelines, the abolition of the YJB should not affect the production of any guidelines on practice or such like. National Standards for Youth Justice Services are statutory guidance signed off by the Secretary of State and provided on advice by the YJB. They set minimum standards that youth offending services must comply with in the delivery of youth justice services in their locality. The National Standards provide uniformity to the youth justice system, and will remain in place should the YJB transfer into the Ministry of Justice.
In addition to the National Standards for Youth Justice, there are sentencing guidelines in place produced by the Sentencing Council specifically for the sentencing of under-18s. These guidelines set the principles for the judiciary to sentence young people. They are aided in this process by recommendations made to the court by the Youth Offending Team based on an assessment of the offender, the offender’s risk of re-offending and harm and their needs. The guidelines ensure that there is consistency when a young person is sentenced and sets a number of criteria which the court must take into account before they pass sentence on a young person.
You may wish to know that the MoJ is currently consulting on the YJB’s inclusion in the Public Bodies Bill and we will pay close attention to the responses submitted before laying any orders to formally abolish the YJB. The details of this consultation are available on the Ministry of Justice website at www.justice.gov.uk.
Thank you for sharing your views with us.