This article contains must-have information about youth justice and the youth justice system, the way youth crime has become a hot topic in the last decade.
During the 1990s there was a huge increase in the number of children caught up in the youth justice system. In its 1997 manifesto pledge the Labour Party promised to reform the system and introduced the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, which led to the creation of the Youth Justice Board and youth offending teams. But since then, the persistently large numbers of young people being jailed in England and Wales – the highest in Europe – has led to increasing criticism of the system and questions about the success of Labour’s reforms.
Youth Justice Board
The Youth Justice Board is an executive non-departmental public body under the joint governance of the Ministry of Justice and the Department for Children, Schools and Families. Its 12 board members are appointed by the home secretary.
The aim of the YJB is to prevent offending among under-18s and it delivers this by setting standards and monitoring performance, promoting good practice and making grants available to local authorities and other bodies. The YJB also manages the juvenile secure estate including arranging placements for sentenced young people.
The YJB has set up a number of diversionary schemes to engage with young people, increase their knowledge and deter them from offending.
Frances Done is the current chair of the YJB and was appointed in January 2008.
Interview with Frances Done
Latest news stories on the Youth Justice Board
Youth Offending Teams (Yots)
Youth Offending Teams work with young offenders and young people at risk of offending. These are multi-agency teams made up of representatives from social services, police, health, housing, police, probation, education and dug and alcohol workers and there is a Yot in every local authority area.
Yots work with young offenders and those at risk of offending by identifying their needs and planning a programme to address their needs in a bid to prevent offending.
Children sentenced to custody can be placed in:
• Secure Children’s Homes
These are designed for young female offenders aged 12-16 and young male offenders aged 12-14. Vulnerable male young offenders aged 15 and 16 should also be placed in secure children’s homes.
They are small with between six and 40 beds and are mainly run by local authority social services departments. They have a high staff to young person ratio of two young people to one staff member and focus on attending to the physical, emotional and behavioural needs of the young people they accommodate.
• Secure Training Centres
There are four of these privately-run purpose-built STCs in England.
|* Hassockfield in County Durham
|* Oakhill in Milton Keynes
|* Medway in Kent
|* Rainsbrook in Rugby
They accommodate young offenders up to the age of 17 and the regimes are constructive and education-focused. They provide tailored programmes for young offenders that give them the opportunity to develop as individuals which, in turn, will help stop them re-offending.
• Young Offender Institutions
YOIs are run by the Prison Service and for young offenders aged 15-21, although the Youth Justice Board is only responsible for accommodating under-18s. They are larger than STCs or Laschs, have a lower staff to child ratio. The vast majority of young offenders are placed in YOIs.
The Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 created a standard generic community sentence for young offenders. The Youth Rehabilitation Order replaced the previous community sentences:
• Action Plan Order
• Curfew Order
• Supervision Order
• Community Punishment Order
• Supervision Order and conditions
• Community Punishment and Rehabilitation Order
• Attendance Centre Order
• Drug Treatment and Testing Order
• Exclusion Order
• Community Rehabilitation Order
• Community Rehabilitation Order and conditions
Requirements can be attached to the YRO including activity, curfew, local authority residence, mental health treatment and unpaid work and intensive fostering.
Legislation and policy
Antisocial Behaviour Act 2003
The Antisocial Behaviour Act was introduced by the government in a bid to protect neighbourhoods and communities. However, a lot of the measures are targeted at children and includes giving police powers to disperse groups of two or more young people on the streets if they are deemed to be acting antisocially and the extension of fixed penalty fines to young people.
Since the introduction of the antisocial behaviour legislation, there has been a huge uptake in the number of antisocial behaviour orders being given out. Rod Morgan (pictured right), a former chair of the Youth Justice Board, among others, claimed that the rise in the young offender population in custody in 2004 was a partly a result of breaches of antisocial behaviour orders.
Children Act 2004
The Children Act 2004 places much emphasis on joined-up working and early intervention. It aims to divert young people away from crime and ensure parents are responsible for their child’s behaviour.
Under the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008, provisions for youth justice include the creation of the Youth Rehabiliation Order (see Community Sentences) and statutory one-year reviews of Asbos for under-18s.
The Youth Crime Action Plan, published in July 2008, includes:
- Increasing take-up of parenting orders alongside Asbos
- Expanding family intervention projects
- More funding for resettlement and aftercare for children leaving custody
- More funding for intensive fostering pilots
Under the plan, councils also have the lead duty on the education and training of young offenders, and are also responsible for the full cost of court-ordered secure remand. Councils also have a formal duty to review cases where children go to jail and look at whether custody could have been avoided by earlier intervention.
Child deaths in custody
At the time of writing in August 2008, there have been 30 deaths of children in custody since 1990, but no public inquiry has been held into any cases despite pressure from campaigners and families.
In 2007, there were high-profile inquests into the deaths of Adam Rickwood, 14, who was the youngest person to die in custody in modern penal history at Hassockfield STC, and 15-year-old Gareth Myatt, who died after being restrained by staff at Rainsbrook STC. The coroner in the Myatt inquest wrote to Jack Straw calling on him to question whether the YJB was “fit for purpose” in providing safe environments.
Concerns about physical restraint of young people in custody were raised in the Rickwood and Myatt inquests. This prompted the government to respond by changing the restraint rules for STCs by stipulating that staff should be able to restrain young people for reasons of “good order and discipline.” This was thrown out by the Court of Appeal, but the government are due to appeal the decision.
An independent review into restraint was also commissioned by the government and is due to report later in the year.
The YJB, originally under the Home Office, came under the joint governance of the Ministry of Justice and the newly created Department for Children, Schools and Families in June 2007. Since then, there have been alleged tensions between the more welfare-oriented approach of the DSCF, headed by Ed Balls, and the punitive approach of the MoJ, led by Jack Straw. How the agenda develops will very much depend on whether the struggling Labour government will want to appeal to voters with a more hardline approach, and what the next – possibly Tory – government will do. Public concern about youth crime amid daily headlines of guns, gangs and knives show no sign of diminishing, making youth justice more of a political football than ever.