Youth justice tug-of-war could tear board apart

The chief executive and interim chair of the Youth Justice Board could resign unless a power struggle between two government departments over its future is resolved, Community Care has learned.

The tug-of-war between justice secretary Jack Straw and children’s secretary Ed Balls, who have joint responsibility for the board, has delayed plans for its future, including the appointment of a permanent chair, during the most turbulent period in its nine-year history.

One source at the YJB said the board was reaching “crunch point” and warned it could lose chief executive Ellie Roy and interim chair Graham Robb “if ministers failed to make a decision on future plans”.

Following the resignation of former chair Rod Morgan at the start of this year, the YJB’s record on monitoring restraint came under scrutiny in the inquests into the deaths of 14-year-old Adam Rickwood and 15-year-old Gareth Myatt in privately run secure training centres in 2004. The coroner in the Myatt inquest wrote to Straw questioning whether the YJB was “fit for purpose” in providing safe environments for young prisoners.

The board’s annual report last month showed it was likely to fail five of its six targets including reducing the numbers of children in custody – which has hovered around 3,000 over the past year.

In June, prime minister Gordon Brown decided to split responsibility for youth justice between the Ministry of Justice, which had held complete control, and the new Department for Children, Schools and Families.

Many believed this heralded a child-centred approach to young offenders. But Straw (pictured left) is thought to have been reluctant to relinquish control of the board.

Interviews for Morgan’s replacement as permanent chair took place last month and an appointment was expected to be announced imminently, but Balls is understood to have stepped in to rewrite the job description and the post will now be re-advertised.

The move has been described as a “huge insult” to the candidates, which were believed to include interim chair Robb, according to the YJB source.

“The chair is not expected to be appointed now until as late as next year and there is still no agreement on a ministerial level about how responsibilities will be spread out. Someone needs to tell us what is going to happen so we can get on with the job,” the source added.

Political wrangling between the two ministers with responsibility for youth justice below Straw and Balls – David Hanson at the MoJ and Beverley Hughes at the DCSF – is also understood to have contributed to the impasse over the board’s future.

Hughes and Hanson have been “unable to agree on who should take what responsibilities and have failed to talk to one another properly,” according to the source.

The MoJ confirmed that the YJB chair’s post would be re-advertised as a result of the government changes.

A spokeswoman added: “DCSF are working together with the MoJ and the Youth Justice Board to agree the exact nature of the day-to-day arrangements which sit under these changes. Cabinet ministers meet regularly to discuss a range of issues. There are ongoing discussions between MoJ and DCSF on how these new arrangements will affect the YJB.”


January 2007:
YJB chair Rod Morgan resigns.

March 2007:
Morgan criticises ministerial interference with the YJB in interview with Community Care.

June 2007:
● Adam Rickwood inquest delivers suicide verdict. Coroner calls for
review into restraint in child prisons.
● Gareth Myatt inquest jury criticises YJB monitoring of restraint.
● Responsibility for YJB split between Ministry of Justice and the
Department for Children, Schools and Families.

July 2007:
● Government commissions review of restraint in youth custody.
● Myatt coroner questions whether YJB “fit for purpose” to provide safe
custodial environments.
● YJB annual report shows failure to meet targets.

August 2007:
YJB accused of “burying” report into inadequate therapeutic support for
children in custody.

Further information
Essential information on youth justice

Contact the author

Maria Ahmed

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