The Youth Justice Board (YJB) and youth justice policy will become the sole responsibility of the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) under the new government, Community Care has learned.
In a move that has sparked concern among prison reformers, the YJB will no longer be jointly sponsored by the Department for Education (DfE) – formerly the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) – and the MoJ.
Sources close to the government have told Community Care that the YJB’s offices could be moved into the MoJ’s headquarters, removing the YJB’s status as a non-departmental public body. The MoJ denies this.
The YJB was set up 12 years ago, under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, to monitor the performance and operation of the youth justice system. Under Brown’s Labour government it became jointly sponsored by the Department for Children, Schools and Families, headed up by children’s secretary Ed Balls.
This was welcomed by prison reformers and youth justice experts who had lobbied the government for years about a more welfare-based approach to youth justice.
Penelope Gibbs, director of the Prison Reform Trust’s campaign to reduce the number of children and young people in custody, said she would be very concerned if the “important welfare aspect of youth justice was lost.”
“Every Child Matters and the international convention on the rights of the child are part of the DNA of the DfE but the MoJ has a different set up. Getting youth justice near the DCSF took years and was a really positive move forward, so it would be a real disappointment if the DfE no longer has any responsibility for youth justice.”
Gibbs said she would like reassurance that the move would not signal a more punitive approach to youth justice. “It could affect the priority that the Every Child Matters agenda has in how the MoJ plans youth justice. Children’s welfare must still be very high up the priority list. The MoJ must look at who is working on it and what training and development they can provide on the Children Act and ECM.”
Rob Allen, a former member of the YJB, said: “The areas you need to target to reduce youth crime – such as supporting families and helping children to get a decent education – lie outside the ambit of the MoJ. This shift is a retrograde step and a mistake.”
The MoJ has now confirmed the move. A statement just released stated: “The Ministry of Justice will now have sole responsibility for youth justice to ensure that one Government Department is clearly accountable for this important area of work.”
The statement also confirmed that Crispin Blunt, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, will be responsible for youth justice.
Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke said: “We face a set of formidable challenges. We must ensure fairness and efficiency in our justice system, whilst reinforcing an independent judiciary. We must provide protection for the public from dangerous individuals and find ways to improve rehabilitation so to cut the worryingly high rates of recidivism.
“We must deliver these priorities against the backdrop of greater budget constraint than has been seen for many decades. I do not underestimate the scale of the task, but my team and I are ready to get to work, improving the justice system and delivering better value for the taxpayer.”
Community Care is awaiting a statement from the MoJ about its priorities for youth justice.