Offending changes

Martin Narey always seemed an OK sort of chap. But his imminent
departure as chief executive of the year-old National Offender
Management Service (Noms) leaves the system in a parlous

The fact that he is taking on the top job at Barnardo’s, with its
enlightened approach to tackling youth offending, suggests his
heart must always have been in the right place. So who was driving
the shake-up that led to Noms’s creation – Narey or ministers? And
now he is leaving, where do we go from here?

Calls for a pause in the reorganisation seem to make sense. With
morale in the probation service now almost at rock bottom it is
surely time to take a step back and consider whether such a
fundamental change was really needed. Was the old system really so

Narey’s vision of a seamless service appears as far off as ever,
while numbers in custody – both adult and juvenile – continue to

Part of the problem is that too little attention is focused on
youth offending. As Community Care highlighted in our Back on Track
campaign last year to promote services for young people who offend,
more resources must be invested early on. There should be more use
of options other than custody for young offenders and those who
have to be detained should be kept near their families and not
shunted all over the place just to suit the convenience of the

The Home Office is apparently considering prioritising 18-21s under
the Noms shake-up. But what about those aged 21 to 24 – the
system’s real Cinderella group? They are totally neglected now just
as they were neglected by the probation service before the
reorganisation. They are at an impressionable age and their needs
are different yet they are all too often dumped in adult prisons
usually sealing their fate as serial offenders.

There was a move a few years ago to take young adult offenders
under the Youth Justice Board’s wing but this was fiercely opposed
by the probation service. Maybe now is the time to have another
look at that idea.

If the government does seize the chance to rethink its strategy for
cutting reoffending then youth crime is a good place to start.
Unless you get things right at the beginning then they are almost
bound to fall apart later.

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