Editorial: A backward step for youth justice

Monday, May 24, 2010

The new government's decision to give the Ministry of Justice sole responsibility for youth justice in England and Wales is massively misguided. It ends a three-year spell where responsibility was shared with the former Department for Children, Schools and Families. During that time, as it happens, the youth prison population declined from 2,927 in March 2007 to 2,207 in March 2010.

The reason stated for the change is to ensure one department is clearly accountable. But at what cost? The shift takes a significant chunk of policy away from the new Department for Education (DfE), which ceases to be the policy engine for all children and young people. More significantly, it puts a huge question mark over how the welfare needs of young offenders will be met. Attention to child welfare is central to reducing reoffending, rehabilitating young people and keeping communities safe.

However heinous their actions, young offenders have very often been treated badly. Less than one per cent of children are in care, yet about 40 per cent of children in custody have been in care. Surely that tells us criminal justice and child welfare should work hand in hand.

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has described our youth justice system as "dominated by a punitive approach that does not sufficiently distinguish between adult offenders and children". Pulling youth justice out of the children's department does nothing to assuage that concern.

Tories including David Burrowes and Tim Loughton had been developing the party's rehabilitation-focused policies on youth justice in opposition, but won't see them through. That task falls to the new youth justice minister Crispin Blunt, a former Army officer. Given the complexities of the issues, let's hope he doesn't live up to his name.

Cavities in the coaltion

The Lib-Con coalition's programme for government document released last week is threadbare in many areas. There is not a single mention of "young people". Beyond the school gates and the National Citizen Service, there appears no plan. And the commitment to Sure Start remains equivocal. Meanwhile, an email from DfE permanent secretary David Bell leaked to CYP Now calls for a freeze in the "coming weeks" on announcements, grants and policy detail by national children's sector bodies. How long can so many life chances be left in limbo? To coin a phrase, "we can't go on like this."

Ravi Chandiramani, editor, Children & Young People Now

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