In common with other public sector bodies, the Youth Justice Board must cut costs, but where?
The Youth Justice Board (YJB) is being reviewed. After years of inspecting others, the organisation itself is being inspected.
In this climate of public sector funding cuts it is reasonable to presume that such a review will include the potential for scope to make financial savings.
Even before the public purse-strings were tightened, the YJB was planning to cut overhead costs by 10%. But that would save less than 1% of its £527m annual budget.
Gordon Brown has recently mentioned cuts of 9.4% in public sector budgets yet assured the NHS it would not have to make such savings. This means, I can only surmise, that public sector bodies outside the NHS will face cuts of considerably more than 9.4%.
So where can the savings be found at the YJB? I have a bold and perhaps simplistic solution that could deliver at least part, if not all, of a 9.4% savings target on its annual budget.
Demand for custody
According to the Youth Justice Board’s Corporate and Business Plan 2009-10, a whopping 60% of the total budget (£316m) will be spent on keeping young people in custody as well as transporting young people to and from custody.
The YJB has already set out its strategic objective to “reduce the demand for custody”. The core of this strategy is to ensure that custodial remands and sentences are used only when a community sentence is inappropriate.
So why not take this objective a step further and look closely at the need for short-term detention and training orders (DTOs)? DTOs require young people to serve half their sentence in custody and the other half in the community under the supervision of a youth offending service worker who co-ordinates some kind of community payback.
This is usually victim-led and includes mediation or voluntary work in the local area as part of a training and supervision plan.
DTO sentences currently range between four months and two years and should only be used if a custodial sentence is considered necessary.
However, at present, a young detainee on a four-month DTO spends nine weeks in custody. The rehabilitation value and economic value of this is questionable.
My proposal, therefore, is to abolish four-month and six-month DTOs and introduce a minimum length of eight months for a DTO. The obvious danger of this plan is that those young offenders who would have received a four- or six-month DTO end up with an eight-month DTO.
Therefore considerable tinkering to sentencing guidelines would be needed in parallel to ensure those offenders who would have received short-term DTOs are instead given intensive community-based sentences rather than longer custodial sentences.
However, if this could be done it would free up resources in young offender institutions, save the YJB money, and enable greater access to courses and support for young detainees on longer sentences.
Dean Woodward is assistant director of Lambeth Specialist Youth Services
This article is published in the 22 October issue of Community Care magazine under the heading Ending lightest DTO sentences would save the YJB plenty