Youth Justice

The Bigger Picture on the youth justice system

By Clare Jerrom

Youth Justice

Community Care campaigned during 2004 for improvements to the youth justice system and for a reduction in the number of children being held in prisons.
For further information go to


During the 1990s there was a huge increase in the number of children caught up in the youth justice system. In its 1997 manifesto pledge the Labour Party promised to reform the youth justice system.

Prime minister Tony Blair said: “Youth crime and disorder have risen sharply, but very few young offenders end up in court, and when they do half are let off with another warning.

“Young offenders account for seven million crimes a year.

“Far too often young criminals offend again and again while waiting months for a court hearing. We will halve the time it takes to get persistent young offenders from arrest to sentencing; replace widespread repeat cautions with a single final warning; bring together youth offending teams in every area; and streamline the system of youth courts to make it far more effective.

“New parental responsibility orders will make parents face up to their responsibility for their children’s misbehaviour.”

After Labour came to power in 1997, it introduced the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 and the Youth Justice Board was set up to drive the reforms forwards.

Youth Justice Board

The YJB is an executive non-departmental public body, within the Home Office. Its 12 board members are appointed by the home secretary.

The aim of the YJB is to prevent offending among under-18s and it delivers this by setting standards and monitoring performance, promoting good practice and making grants available to local authorities and other bodies.

The YJB:-

YJB chair Rod Morgan

* advises the home secretary on the operation of the youth justice system
* sets standards and monitoring performance
* purchases places for children and young people remanded or sentenced to custody
* identifies and promoting good practice
* makes grants to local authorities or other bodies
* commissions research and publishes information.
The YJB also tries to divert young people away from crime through early identification and prevention programmes


The Youth Justice Board has set up a number of diversionary schemes to engage with young people, increase their knowledge and deter them from offending.

These schemes include:-

Youth Inclusion Programmes (Yips)

Young people who are engaged in crime of at risk of offending are identified by youth offending teams and the programme gives young people somewhere safe to go where they can learn new skills, take part in activities with others and get help with their education and careers guidance.

Each YIP receives an annual grant from the Youth Justice Board and is required to find at least an equal amount in matched funding from local agencies. 

Youth Inclusion and Support Panels

Youth Inclusion and Support Panels aim to prevent antisocial behaviour and offending by 8 to 13-year-olds who are considered to be at high risk of offending.

Panels are made up of a number of representatives of different agencies such as social services and health. The main emphasis of a panel’s work is to ensure that children and their families, at the earliest possible opportunity, can access mainstream public services.

Splash Cymru


Splash Cymru is a programme of diversionary activities for 13 to 17-year-olds that runs in the school holidays in Wales.

Funded and managed by the Youth Justice Board, the programme consists of locally run schemes based in areas characterised by high levels of crime and deprivation.

Positive Activities for Young People

Positive Activities for Young People (PAYP) provides a broad range of constructive activities for 8 to 19-year-olds at risk of social exclusion. It builds on the success of previous school holiday programmes such as the Youth Justice Board’s Splash and Connexions’ Summer Plus.

The programme aims to reduce crime and to ensure that young people return to education, have opportunities to engage in new and constructive activities, and can mix with others from different backgrounds.

This cross-government initiative aims to develop young people’s interests, talents and education, and engage them in community activities so they are less likely to commit crime. Activities based on arts, sport and culture take place both during the school holidays and out of school hours throughout the year.

Positive Futures

Positive Futures is a national sports-based social inclusion programme aimed at marginalised 10 to 19-year-olds in the most deprived areas.

By engaging these young people in sport and other activities, Positive Futures aims to build relationships between responsible adults and young people based on mutual trust and respect, in order to create new opportunities for alternative lifestyles.

Safer Schools

Safer School Partnerships provide a very focused approach to address the high level of crime and antisocial behaviour committed in and around schools in some areas – crime committed by and against children and young people.

There are now some 370 police officers based in selected schools in areas with high levels of street crime. This is a joint initiative between the Department for Education and Skills (DfES), the Youth Justice Board and the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) which aims to reduce criminality, antisocial behaviour and criminality.

All schools involved in the Safer School Partnerships initiative have a police officer based in their school.


New Asset  

Mentoring pairs a volunteer adult with a young person at risk of offending. The adult’s role is to motivate and support the young person on the scheme through a sustained relationship over an extended period of time.

Parenting programmes


Parenting programmes provide parents with an opportunity to improve their skills in dealing with the behaviour that puts their child at risk of offending. They provide parents/carers with one-to-one advice as well as practical support in handling the behaviour of their child, setting appropriate boundaries and improving communication.

Youth Offending Teams (Yots)


The YJB also established Youth Offending Teams to work with young offenders and young people at risk of offending. These are multi-agency teams made up of representatives from social services, police, health, housing, police, probation, education and dug and alcohol workers and there is a Yot in every local authority area.

Yots work with young offenders and those at risk of offending by identifying their needs and planning a programme to address their needs in a bid to prevent offending.

For a list of contact details for your local Yot go to


If a young person is convicted of an offence, there are a number of community and custodial sentences.

Here is a list of community sentences:-

• Community Rehabilitation and Punishment Order
• Supervision Order
• Action Plan Order
• Attendance Sentence Order
• Referral Order
• Reparation Order
• Fine
• Conditional Discharge
• Absolute Discharge

Young people can also be given an Intensive Supervision and Surveillance Programme as part of an order. ISSP is the most rigorous non-custodial intervention available for young offenders. It combines high levels of community-based surveillance with a comprehensive and sustained focus on tackling the factors that contribute to the young person’s offending behaviour. The programme targets the most active repeat young offenders, and those who commit the most serious crimes.

Custodial sentences

Children sentenced to custody can be placed in:-


• Local authority secure children’s home
• Secure Training Centre
• Young Offender Institution


These are designed for young female offenders aged 12-16 year old and young male offenders aged 12-14-years old. Vulnerable make young offenders aged 15 and 16 should also be placed in a Lasch.

They are small with between six and 40 beds and are run by local authority social services departments. They have a high staff to young person ratio of two young people to one staff member and focus on attending to the physical, emotional and behavioural needs of the young people they accommodate.

Secure Training Sentences

There are four of these privately-run purpose-built STCs in England.

* Oakhill in Milton Keynes
* Hassockfield in County Durham
* Rainsbrook in Rugby
* Medway in Kent

They accommodate young offenders up to the age of 17 and the regimes are constructive and education-focused. They provide tailored programmes for young offenders that give them the opportunity to develop as individuals which, in turn, will help stop them re-offending. Trainees are provided with formal education 25 hours a week, 50 weeks of the year. They also have a high staff-trainee ratio – three staff members to eight trainees.

Young offender institutions

YOIs are run by the Prison Service and for young offenders aged 15-21, although the YJB is only responsible for accommodating under-18s. They are larger than STCs or Laschs, have a lower staff to child ratio and are less able to meet the needs of the young people held there.

Young adult offenders

In 2001, the government pledged to build on the improvements made to the youth justice system to improve the custodial conditions for young adult offenders aged 18 to 21. However, as a result of the high prison population and movement of young adult offenders around the system, little has been done to improve the situation for this group.


Antisocial Behaviour Act 2003

The Antisocial Behaviour Act was introduced by the government in a bid to protect neighbourhoods and communities. However, a lot of the measures are targeted at children and includes giving police powers to disperse groups of two or more young people on the streets if they are deemed to be acting antisocially and the extension of fixed penalty fines to young people. Children found on the streets between 9pm and 6am may also be taken home by the police. The measures have been welcomed by communities but criticised by human rights groups and children’s charities who believe the measures are too punitive towards children and could potentially breach their human rights.

Since the introduction of the antisocial behaviour legislation, there has been a huge uptake in the number of antisocial behaviour orders being given out. Rod Morgan, the chair of the Youth Justice Board, has admitted that the rise in the young offender population in custody in 2004 was a result of breaches of antisocial behaviour orders. This means children who have acted antisocially are ended up in prison which appears to go against the message in the government’s legislation for children that ‘Every Child Matters’, early intervention is crucial and custody should be used sparingly.

Children Act 2004

Margaret Hodge driving through
children’s reforms

The Children Act 2004 places much emphasis on joined-up working and early intervention. It aims to divert young people away from crime and ensure parents are responsible for their child’s behaviour.

Youth Justice: The Next Steps

When the government published Every Child Matters, the green paper consultation which led to the introduction of the Children Act, an accompanying document for plans for the youth justice system was published too.

Many campaigners were disappointed that the section on youth justice was published separately and thought the proposals should have been included in Every Child Matters.

The government published its response to the consultation in March 2004 and pledged to establish a new Intensive Supervision and Surveillance Order as an alternative to custody for persistent offenders while continuing to work with the YJB to improve the juvenile secure estate.

Youth Justice Bill

The government is planning a Draft Bill building on responses to the September 2003 consultation ‘Youth Justice. The Next Steps’ to introduce better sentencing of juveniles with a sharper focus on preventing offending and simplification of sentences. It will clarify the main purpose of juvenile sentencing as prevention of offending; establish more effective community sentences with a simplified structure; establish the Intensive Supervision & Surveillance Order (ISSO) as an alternative to a custodial sentence; provide that a Detention & Training Order would not be available unless an ISSO had already been tried; give power to place trainees in open conditions and allow temporary release from custody with tagging; broaden the range of services that deal with young offenders.
The Bill would extend to England & Wales.

Useful links

Government bodies

New Asset  
Bobby Cummines of UNLOCK
speaking atthe launch of our
Back on Track campaign in

Voluntary sector organisations and campaign groups

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