The resignation of Youth Justice Board chair Rod Morgan (pictured) has sparked fears that the Home Office will replace him with a “government patsy”.
Campaigners voiced concerns in the wake of last week’s announcement that Morgan was standing down less than three years after taking up the post.
In an open letter to youth justice colleagues explaining his reasons for leaving, Morgan said he no longer believed he had “the confidence” of home secretary John Reid.
Morgan, a liberal academic and former chief inspector of probation,had been increasingly critical of aspects of youth justice policy in recent months.
Ministers were angered by the YJB’s decision to publish research on the effectiveness of antisocial behaviour policies at last November’s annual Youth Justice Convention, prompting a clash between Morgan and Respect “tsar” Louise Casey.
He is thought to have argued with ministers over the need to address children being unnecessarily fasttracked into the criminal justice system, in part so that police could meet their own targets for arrest and prosecution (see Morgan’s parting shots).
In his letter he said that the “excellent structure” of the youth justice system had been “swamped” by increasing use of custodial sentences, which neither the YJB nor youth offending teams could control.
Home secretary John Reid could have extended Morgan’s contract for another three years, he said, but had “chosen not to”. Several senior figures in the sector believe that Morgan and youth justice minister Baroness Scotland, who was lukewarm in her praise of Morgan following his resignation, did not enjoy the best of relations.
However, others argued Reid could have held on to Morgan had he wanted to.
A senior figure in the criminal justice sector said the problem lay in the fact that Morgan was not “on message” and added: “There is a danger that they may now move towards somebody who will be seen as a government patsy. They are not going to appoint Rod Morgan II”.
Paul Cavadino, chief executive of crime reduction charity Nacro, said should the Home Office be “tempted to appoint somebody who might be more compliant”, they might find the tactic backfiring. He cited the cases of former chief inspector of prisons David Ramsbotham and current incumbent Anne Owers, both of whom were more critical of custodial conditions than had been expected at the time of their appointments.
The Home Office will now advertise the post. Morgan said he wanted to leave by the end of February but would wait until an interim chair had been appointed.
Owers echoed Morgan’s concerns at increasing custody numbers in her annual report, published on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Lord Carlile, who chaired an inquiry into the use of physical restraint in the juvenile secure estate which reported last February, questioned the government’s achievements in meeting any of his recommendations, including ending forcible strip-searching, during a Lords debate this week. The Home Office said “the majority” of his recommendations were either in “active commission or under active consideration” but defended the use of strip-searching where necessary.
Morgan’s parting shots (back)
In his letter to youth justice colleagues (see below), Morgan said youth justice was one part of the criminal justice system that was “fit for purpose”. But he said that it had become “swamped” because of the increasing criminalisation of young people, which neither the YJB nor YOTs could control. The growth in the prosecution of young people for minor offences was driven by the police’s crude targets on arrests and prosecutions. He said such policies were not “sensible, cost-effective or sustainable” and threatened the YJB’s statutory commitment to reduce re-offending.
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