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Youth Justice

15 February 2011

The Committee of Public Accounts has published a report on the youth justice system in England and Wales

  • Report: Youth Justice
  • Committee of Public Accounts
  • The Rt Hon Margaret Hodge MP, Chair of the Committee of Public Accounts, today said:

    “The youth justice system has been successful over the last ten years in reducing the number of criminal offences committed by young people. The number of young people held in custody has also fallen, at a time when adult custody figures have been rising. We commend the Youth Justice Board for the central role it has played in these achievements.

    “There are still areas of significant concern, however. The reoffending rate for young people who have left custody has fallen only slightly – with three out of four offending again within a year. There has also been an increase in the numbers of more serious crimes committed by young offenders.

    “What is needed is proper evidence of which interventions with young offenders work best in making inroads on youth crime. Without such evidence, reductions in funding for front-line services might result in cuts to the most successful interventions.

    “Given its decision last year to abolish the Youth Justice Board, it will be for the Ministry of Justice to maintain the national focus on reducing offending by young people and reducing the use of custody. It will not help that funding for work to prevent youth crime is being cut.”

    Margaret Hodge was speaking as the Committee published its Twenty-first Report of this Session which, on the basis of evidence from the Ministry of Justice and Youth Justice Board, examined the operation of the youth justice system in England and Wales.

    Central government and local authorities spent £800 million in 2009-10 dealing with youth crime, primarily through the Youth Justice Board nationally and Youth Offending Teams locally. Ten per cent was spent on trying to prevent young people becoming offenders. Most of the rest was incurred in dealing with offending behaviour, including over £300 million on custody, which is used to deal with 3% of offences. The National Audit Office has estimated that the total costs to the UK economy of offending by young people could be up to £11 billion a year.

    In recent years, the Youth Justice Board has been effective in leading reform within the youth justice system and diverting resources to the offenders most at risk of committing future crimes. Since 2000, the number of young people entering the youth justice system, the number held in custody and the amount of reoffending committed by young people, have all fallen. Youth custody, which is expensive relative to other ways of dealing with young offenders, has fallen during a period when the number of adults in custody has continued to rise. This is a particularly noteworthy achievement, and one in which the Board has played a central part.

    Some areas of difficulty remain, however, particularly with more serious offenders. Young people are now more likely to reoffend after a serious community penalty than they were in 2000 and three in four of those leaving custody will reoffend in the following year. Dealing with these offenders is difficult, but it has been made more so by poor quality assessments and sentence planning in one third of cases, together with a lack of research into the relative effectiveness of different programmes. This also makes it particularly difficult to decide which activities to retain, and which to cut, following the 2010 Comprehensive Spending Review.

    The Ministry has decided to abolish the Youth Justice Board, though it did not take into account the Board’s performance in making this decision. We have some concerns that reorganization at this time could impact on building on the progress achieved to date. Following the abolition, it will be the role of the Ministry to maintain the successes that the Board has achieved in its oversight of the youth justice system, and to address effectively areas where more needs to be done.