Education at the heart of youth justice
Almost ten months after his interim report, the Ministry of Justice today (12 December 2016) published Charlie Taylor’s Review of the Youth Justice System in England and Wales and the government’s response, which promised to adopt most of the main recommendations.
Key points of the Taylor review
Charlie Taylor starts by summarising the main trends in youth justice well-known to most readers of this blog:
- Between 2007 and 2015 there have been very substantial drops in the numbers of young people cautioned or convicted (-79%); entering the justice system for the first time (-82%), prosecuted (69%) and send to custody (-69%).
- Those remaining in the youth justice system are more likely to have complex needs, be from Black, Asian and other minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds and be more serious offenders.
He argues that:
Almost all of the causes of childhood offending lie beyond the reach of the youth justice system. It is vital that health, education, social care and other services form part of an integrated, multi-agency response to a child’s offending, but it is more desirable that these same services intervene with at-risk children and families before their problems manifest themselves in offending.
There are two main themes to Charlie Taylor’s recommendations — a devolved youth justice system and a focus on education.
There are 36 main recommendations in the report and I highlight the principal ones below:
- The MoJ should roll out the money it contributes to YOTs to local authorities and allow them to organise youth justice provision as they see fit.
- Commissioners and providers should change the way in which mental health support is provided to young people to make it more accessible to those at risk.
- All areas should operate diversion schemes based on 8 key principles: proportionality; sensitivity to victims, devolved decision making, speed; light-touch assessment; access to other services; high quality co-ordinated (between police and council) leadership and independent scrutiny.
- Children should not normally be held in police custody for more than six hours.
- Care home staff should resolve minor incidents without recourse to the police.
- The MoJ and Home Office should develop a distinct approach to criminal records for young people.
- There should be a new system of children’s panels (see paragraph 98 of the report for details).
- The Government should remove or substantially restrict the availability of short custodial sentences.
- Children under 16 should only be sent to custody if they pose a significant risk to the public.
- The MoJ and Department for Education should work together to set up Secure Schools which:
- Are run, governed and inspected as schools,
- Accommodate up to 60-70 children and are located in the regions they serve,
- Devolve considerable autonomy to their heads,
- Provide children with a bespoke package of support and education, and
- Deliver an improved and better integrated health offer.
- Young people leaving custody must know where they are going to live at least two weeks in advance of discharge.
- The Ministry of Justice should create an Office of the Youth Justice Commissioner, a specific directorate within the department which replaces the Youth Justice Board for England and Wales (YJB) and brings together in a single place responsibility for policy and delivery of youth justice.
The Justice Secretary Liz Truss cannily issued her press release on the MoJ response to Charlie Taylor’s report two days ahead of the publication of the report itself.
Ms Truss highlights the fact that education and training will be put at the heart of youth justice and features four key components of the MoJ response:
- Two ‘secure schools’ to be launched – alongside new measures to monitor progress in English and maths, health and behaviour.
- £15 million to boost frontline staff by 20 percent and improve safety
- Head of Operations established for youth custody – to reduce violence and drive up standards and dedicated officers responsible for overseeing young offenders’ progress.
- Bid to have every young person on an apprenticeship pathway that will continue even after they have left custody
The two secure schools (one in the North and one in the South) are to be developed in line with the principles set out in the Taylor review. However, most children in custody will not be in these schools (even when they are built) and the MoJ response sets out other measures on education; making a commitment to:
- Put education and health at the heart of youth custody. We will develop a new pre-apprenticeship training pathway that will start in custody and ensure that all children and young people are in education, training or employment on release.
- Empower governors so that they can better help to reform young people.
- Boost the numbers of staff on the operational frontline in Young Offender Institutions (YOIs) by 20%.
- Introduce a new Youth Justice Officer role so that we have more staff specially trained to work with young people. These officers will be trained on the job or recruited with experience of youth work, social work or teaching.
- Each young person will have a dedicated officer who is responsible for challenging and supporting them to reform. There will be one officer for every four young people to enable the right level of support. They will work with them on a personal plan to drive improvements in their behaviour, education and health.
- Develop additional specialist support units with a higher staff to young person ratio to provide enhanced psychological support and guidance to the most challenging and vulnerable young people.
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