The Ministry of Justice is considering paying councils to help achieve youth justice targets, as part of justice reforms, Community Care has learned.
Following news last week that the Youth Justice Board is to be abolished, an MoJ spokesperson confirmed that over the next 18 months the YJB’s main functions – including overseeing youth offending teams, disseminating best practice, commissioning a distinct secure estate and placing children in custody – will be transferred to a youth justice unit at the MoJ.
However, following sector concerns over the future of the prevention agenda within youth justice, the spokesperson said the department was considering “different approaches, including payment by results where councils would be paid for achieving agreed targets”.
But he said he was unable to reveal any further details of proposals which would be in its sentencing and rehabilitation green paper, due this autumn.
In the past, devolution of youth custody budgets to local authorities has been put forward as an effective means for increasing local authority attempts to prevent children entering the youth justice system.
However, Andrew Neilson, assistant director of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said the abolition of the YJB meant ministers would be less likely to devolve custody budgets, “because there will be no quango to oversee local approaches.”
“The spending constraints local authorities are facing at the moment will make devolving custody budgets almost impossible and could lead to poor outcomes,” he added.
Mike Thomas, of the Association of Youth Offending Team Managers, agreed that councils would need funding to take on more preventative work. He said the YJB prevention grant is due to run out next April and there has been no word on whether that will be retained.
He said he was worried that shifting the YJB functions into the MoJ flew in the face of current prevention projects which worked at a local level – with YOTs aligned with children’s services and linked in with children’s trusts. “What this means for the prevention work that YOTs have very successfully delivered remains to be seen.”
He said to retain a distinct and separate youth justice system the MoJ must “link across with other central government departments, reflecting the multi-agency make up of YOTs”.
“Raising the age at which children can receive a custodial sentence to at least 14 would save a substantial amount and allow a proportion to be reinvested in preventive initiatives.”
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