Sixty Second Interview with Profesor Rod Morgan
By Amy Taylor and Clare Jerrom
Here, the Youth Justice Board’s chair Rod Morgan outlines his thoughts on this controversial subject.
How are breaches of antisocial behaviour orders currently affecting the prison population for juveniles and young offenders?
In response to concern about the link between asbo breaches and custody, the YJB commissioned research earlier this year to investigate the issue. The findings showed that the overwhelming majority of young people in custody for breaching asbos are prolific offenders, a sizeable proportion of whom have previously been in custody. This suggests that asbos are not generally bringing children into custody who would not get there by other routes (which is not say that it never happens). Our challenge is to ensure that this remains the case by putting in place the right measures at the right time to tackle anti-social behaviour (asb) so that young people are less likely to end up with, or breach, an asbo. Early intervention is key.
The commissioner of human rights has slammed the naming and shaming of young people on asbos this week. What do you think about this?
Current legislation allows for reporting restrictions to be lifted for young people in breach of asbos and we must work within this. However, we argue that reporting restrictions should not be lifted if it would undermine the ability of the youth justice and other agencies to work positively to reduce the offending of the young person and that their age and vulnerability should be taken into account in this regard. The Board contends that there are also other means of informing and reassuring the public that action has been taken to respond to their concerns. Publicity and resultant notoriety is almost never helpful in working with young offenders. It can easily become their boastful identity.
Alvaro Gil-Robles also said that the excessive use of asbos was more likely to exacerbate antisocial behaviour as often children breached the asbos and, as a consequence, ended up in prison. He added that asbos risked alienating and stigmatising children, entrenching their errant behaviour. Would you agree with this argument?
In the vast majority of cases, young people who cause trouble are young people in trouble, with troubles. Enforcement of court orders, if they have to be resorted to, has to be balanced with support. We aim to work with young people and their parents, not against them. Procedures which serve to alienate and stigmatise do not build mutual respect and trust. This is not being soft. Getting young people and their parents to face up to the consequences of their actions and take responsibility for them is tough. The youth offending teams (Yots) work to address the needs of young offenders, improve their engagement with education, training and employment and provide them with practical advice and support to deal with the factors behind their antisocial behaviour. Everyone – the YJB, the government, the police, the magistrates – agrees that the Yots are central to tackling antisocial behaviour by children and young people. This is reflected in guidance on the subject, published earlier this year. The guidance supports an incremental approach to dealing with antisocial behaviour – highlighting a range of interventions (home visits and interviews, warning letters, Acceptable Behaviour Contracts, etc) which might be employed before considering applying for an asbo.
Is there enough intervention from Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services teams in decision making given the high number of asbos given to children with Asperger’s Syndrome and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder?
Disabilities, mental health problems or special educational needs should absolutely be taken into account when designing measures to deal with antisocial behaviour. The Home Affairs Select Committee report on antisocial behaviour highlighted a lack of commitment to tackling antisocial behaviour in some areas, which is disappointing to hear. There is certainly a problem regarding the adequacy of CAMHS services for older adolescents in some parts of the country. The YJB has stressed, and will continue to stress, the importance of all key players in tackling antisocial behaviour engaging fully in the agenda. This is in the best interests of the child and the wider community.
Has the government responded to your call for more funding for Youth Inclusion Programmes, Youth Inclusion and Support Programmes and preventive work?
Yes, very positively. In the most recent Budget we were allocated an extra £25 million for early prevention schemes. This represents a real vote of confidence in our ability to turn youngsters away from crime and antisocial behaviour. We’re now working with partners in the Department for Education and Skills and Home Office to develop and expand a range of programmes for young people and their families, such as YIPs, YISPs and parenting programmes. We shall shortly be announcing how we intend to distribute these funds to the local services. I would like to see the media turn their attention away from the latest asbo and crime stories to the extremely valuable work being done to prevent it, the bulk of which is done quietly behind the scenes in the neighbourhoods where antisocial behaviour and crime is rife.
What are your thoughts about the absence of a youth justice bill?
There was no mention of the Bill in the recent Queens Speech. But this does not necessarily mean that the Bill has been abandoned. We continue to work with the government on key legislative proposals and we remain confident that by one means or another they will find their way onto the statute book. Moreover, it should not be forgotten that many, indeed most, changes can be achieved administratively.