Youth board admits targets failure

The Youth Justice Board is set to miss key targets to reduce the number of children going to prison and prevent reoffending, it has emerged.

The YJB’s 2006-7 annual report says it is “highly unlikely” that its target to reduce the number of under-18s in custody by 10% from March 2005 to March 2008 will be met. The report cites a rise in the youth custody population over the past year, peaking at 3,036 in September 2006. This dropped to 2,879 in May.

Targets on reducing the number of children entering the youth justice system, reducing reoffending, and improving assessment and access to services including mental health are also deemed “at risk.”

Of the six performance targets set by the Home Office, only one on ensuring all youth offending teams have race equality plans is “on track.” A target to ensure under-18s are held separately from adults by March 2008 is set to be met later that year.

The board’s report suggests that a police public service agreement target to bring 1.25 million offences to justice in 2007-8 has led to higher numbers of young people entering the criminal justice system.

There is a risk the rise of children in custody “could adversely affect [the YJB’s] ability to run safe and effective regimes” unless there is a “sufficient increase in capacity”, the report warns. It also says there has been a drop in public confidence in community sentencing.

The report echoes the concerns of former YJB chair Rod Morgan, who resigned from his post earlier this year over his frustration with the numbers of children being “criminalised.”

Last week, the YJB announced it was converting the all-female Cookham Wood prison in Kent into a young offender institution for young men under 18 “to  reduce population pressure”.

The YJB, which was created in 1998, has come under increased scrutiny following the inquests of Adam Rickwood and Gareth Myatt, who died in secure training  centres in 2004. A fortnight ago the coroner into the Myatt inquest wrote to the Ministry of Justice urging it to review whether the YJB was “fit for purpose” to provide safe environments for holding child prisoners. The inquest also criticised the YJB over its inadequate monitoring of restraint at Rainsbrook STC, where Gareth died of asphyxia after being restrained by staff.

The YJB’s annual report does not include information on the performance of the four privately-run STCs, saying it was “not available at the time of writing”. A YJB spokesperson said there was “no publication date” for the information as yet.

The report also reveals that of the YJB’s £458m government funding for 2006-7, two-thirds – £279m – was used to buy secure accommodation.

Jon Fayle, former head of policy at the YJB, said it was “disappointing” that the YJB’s target to reduce custody numbers was unlikely to be met. He added: “The YJB must continue to set targets for significant reduction – it sends an important political signal. It will be interesting to see the new set of targets when they are released to see if the YJB has held its nerve in this area.”

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Maria Ahmed

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