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Tragic deaths in custody point to a system in need of reform

Five young people in custody died in the space of just 33 days during March and April. The tragedies mark an exceptionally horrific spell in the youth prison system. To put it in context, no more than five teenagers have died in custody during any entire year since 2005, when the figure was nine.

Riot response requires long-term solutions, not knee-jerk policies

The violence across English cities this month triggered its own riot - of condemnation, debate and knee-jerk policy pronouncements. In the days that followed the first outbreak in Tottenham, an exercise in national soul searching took place through the media. Yours truly, for one, did the breakfast TV paper review on Sky News.

Progress in joint working must go on

The decision last week to strip the Children's Workforce Development Council (CWDC) of government funding will inevitably raise concerns that any genuine "development" of the workforce will stall. A plan for how the Department for Education intends to take forward the quango's work is yet to be articulated.

Editorial: A backward step for youth justice

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.

Strange alliance opposes justice reforms

Ever since the overarching Youth Rehabilitation Order (YRO) was mooted as the replacement for the complex array of community sentences currently available for young offenders, I have sounded a note of caution. When the Scaled Approach was announced, I immediately started suggesting, in academic lectures on youth justice, that there was an historical precedent that highlighted the need for care in its development.

Poetry unlocks the minds of prisoners

Twice in the space of a week I was in Parc Prison in south Wales. The visits were at either end of a week of poetry, lectures and debate, developed and organised through an impressive and creative tie-up between the real Hay Festival in Hay-on-Wye and the prison in Bridgend.

The beautiful game has started to turn ugly

In one of the first discussions on youthful antisocial behaviour during the 1990s, I noted in a speech that most of the lads' magazines tended to be preoccupied with half-naked women and bad-boy footballers.

Where are all these gangs we hear about?

What are these gangs that everyone is so preoccupied about these days? There was a time when there was some consensus that the UK, with the early exception of Glasgow and the later exception of paramilitaries in Northern Ireland, did not have gangs, at least not by the established American definition of the term.

Will sanctions or support ward off trouble?

One element of the "triple track" response in the new Youth Taskforce Action Plan is the idea of non-negotiable support. Some will immediately baulk at the concept: surely support has to be wanted to be effective?

Break the cycle of neglect and reoffending

Media portrayals of "hoodies" and concerns that antisocial behaviour orders are seen as badges of honour have strengthened the perception that young people and crime are inextricably linked.

Custody staff need crisis communication training

The Independent review of the use of pain-inducing techniques – published over the summer – in short hasn’t told us anything we didn’t know before and the heart of the recommendations are simply echoes of previous reports that still haven’t been enacted.

Abolition of YJB is difficult to justify

The government's decision to scrap the Youth Justice Board (YJB) in last week's "bonfire of the quangos" is bewildering. In recent years, since the welcome demise of New Labour's Respect agenda, the YJB has helped to reduce first-time entrants to the criminal justice system and the youth custody population has come down.

Hidden costs of payment-by-results

We are in an age of austerity where outcomes are critical. So it is difficult to take issue in raw principle with the government's desire to commission more public services on a payment-by-results basis.

It's time to respect children's rights

You wait ages for one 20th anniversary, then three come along at once. We've just marked the fall of the Berlin Wall and the 1989 Children Act. And this week it is 20 years since the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child came into existence.

The next commissioner needs bite

The Department for Children, Schools and Families has fired the starting gun to recruit a children's commissioner for England to succeed Sir Al Aynsley-Green early next year.

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