The chair of the Youth Justice Board, Frances Done, has insisted that the first major review of the organisation will be subject to fully independent scrutiny, despite the fact she is its co-chair.
Frances Done said that “anyone who knows” the review’s other co-chair, former senior civil servant Dame Sue Street, “will not be in any doubt about the independence of the review”.
“I bring a fundamental understanding of the way it [the youth justice system] all works,” said Done. “That’s what ministers felt was the most helpful way to go about it.”
First review since creation in 1998
The review, the first since the YJB was set up in 1998, was announced yesterday (16 September) and will run until February, just a few months before a general election is likely to take place.
She and Done will be supported by a steering group of officials from the Ministry of Justice, Home Office, Department for Children, Schools and Families, the YJB itself, and the Welsh government, as the YJB oversees youth justice in Wales as well as in England.
Review should ‘look at everything’
The review’s terms of reference are very wide-ranging, looking at all aspects of the YJB’s powers, accountability and capacity, but Done said that “a good review should look at everything”.
“The statutory role of the YJB is a given,” she said. “We’re starting from that.”
Since becoming chair of the YJB 18 months ago, Done said she had formed “some pretty firm views” about how she wanted it to work.
She declined to go into details, saying the YJB wanted as much evidence as possible from interested parties to inform the review.
Devolving custody costs an option
However, she said there were already “a couple of things under discussion”, including the possibility of devolving responsibility for paying the costs of youth custody to local authorities.
“That’s a promising direction of travel but ministers don’t have a view about it at the moment,” she said.
Custody numbers down
After little progress this decade in reducing the number of young people in custody, there has been a notable decrease in the past year, particularly in the past six months. For example, there were 2,644 under-18s in custody in July, compared to 2,938 a year earlier.
Done said this was a result of a “sustained effort at local level very much encouraged by us”, as well as support from penal organisations such as the Prison Reform Trust.
“We know what makes a difference – the quality of relationships between courts and youth offending services,” she said.
Added to this were good-quality community interventions and the availability of remand fostering services and supported accommodation, she said.
“There are always some young people who will need to be in custody but there are still too many who don’t need to be and could have a robust community sentence,” she said.
Improving resettlement services
Done said another key issue was improving resettlement services for young offenders leaving custody.
They are designed to boost resettlement through improved joint working between the secure estate and local authorities. Done said this had meant council chief executives and directors of children’s services, “who don’t nomally go into YOIs”, visiting the institutions.
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