Board’s new head is sweet on cutting number of young people in custody

Life is like a box of chocolates, they say, and this analogy is
even more appropriate for Rod Morgan’s life, whose early career in
confectionery has shaped his approach to the youth justice

Morgan, who last week took up his post as the new chair of the
Youth Justice Board, explains that the approach used by the sweet
manufacturer he worked for back in the 1960s could be applied to
aspects of the youth justice system.

When testing whether a product would work, the company would give
the public a free sample to taste, and if successful, it would
launch the product in a certain part of the country and give out
plenty of free samples. If a threshold level of sales was achieved,
the product would be rolled out nationally.

“I’m an old fashioned researcher and so I’m a strong believer in
evidence, and piloting things and experimenting before you roll it
out,” Morgan tells Community Care just days before joining
the YJB from his role as chief inspector of probation. Surrounded
by boxes in his bare London office at the probation inspectorate,
Morgan explains this approach is exactly how he feels towards the
new National Offender Management Service which comes into existence
in June.

He says he hopes no one will move too quickly over the offender
management service. Careful, cautionary steps should be taken
because “if mistakes are made, an awful amount of value is going to
be lost”.

Morgan believes what will come into existence in June will be “an
embryonic commissioning agency” although he admits he is not sure
where youth justice will sit in relation to the new service as “no
one knows what it is going to look like yet”.

Similarly he is unsure about what children’s services under the
remit of the Department for Education and Skills will look like.
While he passionately supports the idea of better integrated
children’s services, he suggests the much criticised working silos
have been created deliberately to provide services to a targeted

Morgan, a professor of criminology and former lecturer in social
sciences, is a firm believer that youth justice should remain with
the Home Office as opposed to moving under the banner of DfES with
all other children’s services.

“We have got to have a separate agency and until we know about the
shape of new children’s services, I think it’s appropriate it
remains with the Home Office,” he says.

The YJB and youth offending teams need to work with existing and
emerging children’s services to ensure all young people in trouble
gain access to mainstream services. But he acknowledges that some
groups end up on the margins and so it is important there is a
separate structure for them, which should remain linked to the Home

“What has to be remembered is that children in trouble are an
extremely vulnerable and problematic group about which there is
frequently scandal and media panics. We’ve got to ensure that the
target group is well catered for and that appropriate services are

But he says it is “absolutely essential” for him to build good
relations with children’s minister Margaret Hodge and develop close
partnership arrangements with the Home Office and DfES.

Measures for children’s trusts in the Children Bill pave the way
for youth offending teams to become involved in the joint
commissioning of children’s services along with local authorities,
primary care trusts and Connexions using pooled budgets where
locally appropriate.

But Morgan believes too little is known about the shape children’s
trusts will take to decide where youth offending teams should be
located. Local circumstances vary and consequently it should be
“horses for courses”.

He accepts he will be “preoccupied with aspects of custody”. While
the juvenile population in custody is lower than it was before the
board was set up in 1998, “it is still quite high and the numbers
of very young juveniles are still quite high,” he says.

“While everyone says custody should be a last resort, the position
at which different practitioners or decision makers or observers
fix their last resort is different,” he says.

He hails the achievement of the board as “one of New Labour’s
success stories”, but cautions that “we still have a long way to

The government’s plan to introduce the intensive supervision and
surveillance order as a community sentence alternative to custody –
as outlined last month in its response to Youth Justice: The
Next Steps
– could play a vital role in this (news, page 8, 11

But Morgan accepts there is a risk that judges or magistrates could
use the orders for offenders who would anyway have received a
community sentence rather than for those who would have gone to

He also fears that measures introduced in the Antisocial Behaviour
Act 2003 could criminalise more young people and lead to an
increase in the use of custody. He warns that penalties for
breaching antisocial behaviour orders are “quite severe”, and while
he understands why they were introduced, “it doesn’t mean to say I
don’t have concerns about it all”.

Morgan believes that better communication with the courts is
crucial if the number of custodial sentences is to be reduced. They
need to be given sound evidence that alternatives to custody work,
safeguard the public and address the problems. The intensive
supervision and surveillance order should also be introduced
“carefully” and its use and results monitored.

But conditions in some young offenders institutions remain
“unacceptable” and where this is the case, those places should be
eliminated and alternatives created. He also warns that services
provided in prisons should be to the same standard as those in the

“Custodial establishments should not be enclaves where a lower or a
different standard is applied. Someone who goes to prison should
not get worse dental, psychiatric, health and other services than
someone in the community because worse services are not part of

Morgan’s contract is for three years and he says he is looking
forward to the role “with enthusiasm” although he recognises it
will be a tough job. He plans to “think hard” about the future
secure estate for juveniles and decide what the balance should be
of secure places within young offenders’ institutions, local
authority secure children’s homes and secure training

“Government and opposition have made it plain that they are going
to keep a tight control over Home Office expenditure. We have to
make sure that what we spend in custody represents really good
quality and value for money,” he adds.

Another priority will be to achieve more consistency across youth
offending teams. Currently, there are “big differences in the
quality of what’s being delivered”, he says. So over the next few
months, the probation inspectorate will be publishing
multi-inspectorate reports into the quality of the services
delivered, and Morgan wants to act on these to “ensure that
standards across the country are more consistent”.

As well as reducing numbers in custody and inspiring confidence in
the judiciary that alternatives to custody work, he wants
ministers, the government, courts and the public to appreciate the
role of youth justice staff. “What would give me pleasure is for
those that work with the youth justice system to have a sense of
professional pride and achievement in what they do,” he adds.

He is also keen to get out into the field and “meet the troops”, as
“I don’t believe the best place to learn about real life is in an
office in Whitehall”.

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