Clearer leadership and higher expectations for youth offending teams are among the recommendations set out for the Youth Justice Board in the first independent review of the body since its creation in 1998.
The review, led by Dame Sue Street with YJB chair Frances Done, hailed the board as “amongst the most significant [reforms] ever made to the criminal justice system”. But it called for the YJB to “take a firmer grip of its responsibilities, and provide clearer direction and leadership” by raising its expectations in the youth justice system and communicating effectively.
Street said there was room for “swift and dramatic improvement” in the way the YJB and its sponsoring departments – the Ministry of Justice and Department for Children, Schools and Families – conducted their responsibilities.
“With public protection at the heart of the system and a better grip on what works, including early intervention with high-risk groups, much more could be achieved for less cost,” Street said.
Among 23 recommendations, the review said the workforce across the secure estate should be well trained and qualified to work with young people and that league tables on the performance of YOTs should be published.
The review also called for closer working between the Home Office and the YJB and for greater accountability among councils for prevention work and resettlement support post-custody.
Street said she hoped the government would implement all the recommendations immediately.
Done welcomed the recommendations that the YJB must be “more demanding” of colleagues in local government and children’s services and for more distinctive custodial provisions for children and young people.
“This indicates a direction of travel for the separateness of the secure estate – to make sure settings are entirely suitable for young people and that we have a committed workforce who are all trained to work with this age group,” Done said.
She said one of the most challenging recommendations for the YJB would be to administer clearer leadership to YOTs and establish the most cost-effective interventions.
“It can be hard to say ‘this works’ or ‘this doesn’t’ when working with young people because what happens at home is very important too,” Done said. “But we accept that it is time to work closely with YOTs, to let them be innovative and to all be clear about what we’ve learned.”
Justice secretary Jack Straw said: “The review is clear that more attention must be focused on monitoring and raising standards in local areas, on holding local providers of youth justice to account and on sharing best practice more widely. We accept that and will immediately work with the YJB to ensure that happens.”
Straw said the government would develop proposals for putting into practice all the review’s recommendations.
Andrew Neilson, assistant director of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “While the YJB has endured some patchy performance over the years, we believe it performs an important role within government.
“It remains the case that England and Wales take an inappropriately punitive approach to children in trouble with the law. But as long as the levers for change are based within the criminal justice system and not routed through welfare, then it is vital the YJB performs its job effectively and communicates its successes to the public at large.”
The government intends publishing a detailed response to the review in the summer.