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Russell Webster

Russell Webster

Criminal Justice & substance misuse expert and author of this blog.

Prison service to be responsible for youth custody

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The new HM Prison and Probation Service will take over responsibility of youth custody from the Youth Justice Board whose new chair will be Charlie Taylor.

Fundamental changes

Amidst the sudden explosion of written ministerial statements from Justice Secretary Liz Truss which accompanied the publication of the Prisons and Courts Bill last Thursday (23 February 2017), was this important Youth Justice Update.

In the statement, Liz Truss announced:

  1. The appointment of Charlie Taylor as chair of the Youth Justice Board
  2. The creation of a new Youth Custody Service as a distinct arm of HM Prison and Probation Service
  3. Responsibility for commissioning youth custody services moves to the MoJ

Youth Justice Board

The ministerial statement says that these changes (which essentially remove the responsibility for youth custody from the YJB) will:

enable the Youth Justice Board to build on its strong track-record and focus on its statutory function of providing vital independent advice on, and scrutiny of, the whole system, advising the government on what standards to set for the youth justice system and monitoring delivery of those standards. It will continue to work closely with Youth Offending Teams to promote early intervention in the community and share best practice across the system.

Liz Truss has also appointed Charlie Taylor as the new Chair of the YJB. This is an interesting move; many seasoned youth justice watchers may be surprised given the slightly odd way in which the MoJ greeted Mr Taylor’s review of the youth justice system. Bizarrely, the MoJ published its response to the report, before publishing the report itself. While the overall tone of the MoJ response was “great job, we accept all your recommendations”, a more careful reading of the response seemed to indicate that the MoJ intended to reject most of Mr Taylor’s recommendations. There must have been some interesting discussions for him to now to be appointed as Chair of the YJB. Indeed, the ministerial statement acknowledges that Liz Truss is stretching her powers in making his appointment without competition; something which can is only supposed to be done in “exceptional circumstances.”

The Youth Custody Service

The new Youth Custody Service will have a dedicated director accountable directly to the Chief Executive of HMPPS, Michael Spurr. Further details:

The Director will have operational responsibility for the day-to-day running of the youth estate, will keep a firm grip on performance, and will be a board-level member of HM Prison and Probation Service. The Youth Custody Service will have its own workforce separately recruited and trained to work in the youth estate, and we will create distinct career pathways for those wanting to work with children and young people in the secure estate, including a new Youth Justice Specialist Worker role.

MoJ commissioning role

The statement goes on to describe this key move:

We will bring responsibility and accountability for commissioning youth custody services into the Ministry of Justice. Working closely with the Chair of the Youth Justice Board, the Department will be responsible for setting clear standards for the provision of youth justice and will be responsible for intervening decisively to address poor performance.

Conclusion

The written statement was also accompanied by the publication of the findings and recommendations of the Youth Custody Improvement Board. The Board was set up to explore and report on the current state of the youth custodial estate and recommend how the system could be improved, particularly focusing on any current risks to safety and well-being.

Youth Justice expert Rob Allen, in his analysis of these decisions, welcomes the promise of a distinct cadre of specialist staff who will be recruited and trained to work with young people, although he notes that they will need to be incentivised to stay in the sector.

However, he questions strongly (as I am sure will many other penal reformers) the appropriateness of making the prison service responsible for children in custody and questions whether it will be possible to transform the culture of youth custody (which events at Medway showed is an urgent necessity) from within the prison system.

 

Blog posts in the Criminal Justice category are kindly sponsored by Get the Data which provides Social Impact Analytics to enable organisations to demonstrate their impact on society. GtD has no editorial influence on the contents of this site.

 

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