Speculation about the future of the Youth Justice Board is growing as ministers face mounting pressure to halt plans for its abolition next year.
Although justice secretary Kenneth Clarke confirmed in June that plans to axe the YJB and transfer its responsibilities to the Ministry of Justice would go ahead, campaigners and the YJB are now urging the government to rethink the move in light of the riots in England.
In its response to the consultation on the Public Bodies Bill, published this week, the YJB said its abolition posed “a serious risk” to progress in the youth justice system.
It added that the recent riots and looting had emphasised “the need for consistent and effective support to youth offending teams by people with practical experience of all aspects of youth justice”.
The response, signed by all board members, concluded that the “already streamlined YJB should be allowed to continue its effective leadership of youth justice delivery to support the government’s key priority of reducing youth crime and improving public safety”.
Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said it was not surprising that serious concerns continued to be raised about the abolition of the YJB.
“Its experienced board and non-departmental public body status, combination of operational and policy responsibilities, oversight and monitoring have helped to maintain a proper focus on the needs of children in serious trouble,” she said.
The board’s steady progress in reducing child custody looked set to stay on course, Lyon said, even with a spike in numbers after the riots. She said she was not convinced that the MoJ could achieve the dedicated focus on under-18s that the YJB has, pointing to other vulnerable groups managed by the MoJ.
“Despite substantive reports, there has been no such focus on the particular needs of women offenders andthe needs of young adults have been neglected altogether,” Lyon said. “In harsh economic times, with more emphasis on localism, a pared-down version of the YJB could be the right solution after all.”
Spike Cadman, senior policy development officer at the crime reduction charity NACRO, and Pam Hibbert, chair of the National Association for Youth Justice, agreed it was crucial that, whatever the fate of the YJB, a separate, child-centred youth justice system must be retained. “There must also be separate governance of youth justice,” Hibbert said.
Many in the sector now hope the government will reconsider its plans, Community Care understands. But an MoJ spokesperson said the riots had highlighted “that it is ministers, not an unelected body, that should be responsible for overseeing the delivery of youth justice.”
The spokesperson added: “We will carefully consider the YJB’s response to the Public Bodies Bill before any reform is made.”
It is not the first time the government’s decision to abolish the YJB – first announced last October as part of the government’s proposals to scrap 192 quangos – has been challenged.
In March, the House of Lords backed an amendment to the Public Bodies Bill calling for the YJB’s removal from the at-risk list. Proposed by Lord Warner, a former YJB chair, it was passed with a majority of 63, gaining cross-party support.
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