MoJ criticised for 'weak' response to youth justice review

By Joe Lepper

| 08 February 2017

The Ministry of Justice has been criticised for its "weak" response to a major review of youth justice.

Justice Secretary Liz Truss has said that the government’s response to the Taylor review will help “create a justice system that works for everyone”.  Picture: Parliament TV

The Standing Committee for Youth Justice (SCYJ), which represents more than 40 children's and justice organisations including Barnardo's and Catch 22, has said the government has "not gone far enough" in adopting many of the recommendations made in Charlie Taylor's review, and has failed to respond to a number of them.

Following the publication of the Taylor review in December, ministers pledged to act on key recommendations such as establishing secure schools and tackling problems with violence in custody. Two secure schools are to be trialled and the government has set aside £15m to boost staff numbers in young offender institutions (YOI).

But the SCYJ said it had hoped for "more concrete actions".

"We are disappointed that the government has not engaged more fully with Taylor's recommendations, particularly since it has spent £350,000 on the review," the committee's statement on the Taylor report and the government's response reads.

Justice Secretary Liz Truss has said that the government's response to the review represents the beginning of a series of reforms that will help cut reoffending, make communities safer and "create a justice system that works for everyone". 

But a chief criticism is that the government has focused too much on recommendations affecting the secure estate but neglected reform of wider youth justice services.

In particular, the SCYJ wants a full response from ministers on Taylor's recommendation that young offender custody budgets be devolved to councils. Taylor argued this would improve resettlement and increase integration of support for young offenders. 

The SCYJ also backs devolution of youth justice powers, saying that such a move would create "significant benefits" in terms of investment in prevention and bringing down the custody population.

It added that the government's response is "weak" on concerns raised by Taylor around the over-criminalisation of looked-after children, particularly in care homes, and the overrepresentation of black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) children in the youth justice system.

Taylor called for councils to ensure care home staff are better trained to resolve disputes and work better with police forces to "agree a proportionate response" to residential care incidents. Police forces should also be required to monitor how frequently BAME children are diverted from courts and formal sanctions, his review said.

However, the SCYJ said it is "disappointed" that the government did not address Taylor's recommendations in this area and that "too little attention" has been paid to the issues around BAME children in the system.

The SCYJ statement adds: "The unnecessary criminalisation of looked-after children is completely unacceptable and the government has a duty to address it."

The Taylor review, as well as the government, came under fire from the SCYJ for having "little mention" of the distinct needs of girls in the justice system. The SCYJ is also critical of the government's response to a Taylor recommendation to overhaul criminal records to reduce the time when childhood convictions become spent.

While the government recognises this is an area that should be looked at, the SCYJ said ministers need to commit themselves to reform. Last month Youth Justice Board chair Lord McNally called for children's criminal records to be erased at 18.

Despite their criticism, the SCYJ does back the government's support for retaining a central, specialist youth justice body, a role currently carried out by the YJB, and that it receives ringfenced funding.

The SCYJ also welcomes government support for Taylor's calls for better integration across health, police and children's services on crime prevention. It said it was particularly impressed with the government's commitment to ensuring that information is shared across agencies to support such preventative measures.

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