Thursday 12th April 2012
By Crispin Blunt MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the Ministry of Justice
I believe that we have already made good progress towards achieving an effective and intelligent youth justice system, but I am determined to deliver more. We must ensure offences are resolved effectively, victims and communities are given greater priority, and that young criminals are appropriately punished but more effectively rehabilitated. Our reforms must also recognise the constraints on public finances, which provide even greater urgency to maximising the impact of our resources and reducing bureaucracy.
The most efficient solutions can be found at a local level. We must allow flexibility and empower experienced professionals to find innovative solutions to tackle offending. I have already halved the number of performance indicators applying to the youth justice system, giving greater freedom for those on the frontline to do their job.
Wherever possible we want to prevent young people entering the system in the first place. Early identification, support and intervention are essential for an intelligent approach to youth offending. To make this a reality we must take a more joined-up approach that crosses policy boundaries in central government and operational boundaries between local agency services. For example, we know we must tackle the full range of issues faced by young offenders and their families. My department is working with others in Whitehall to turn around the lives of 120,000 troubled families by 2015. Youth Offending Teams, themselves an embodiment of a genuine multi-agency approach, are taking the programme forward at a local level. The more we can do to stop problems developing early on the better; a strategy that not only makes economic sense but prevents harm to victims and young people alike.
This is why we are giving local authorities greater financial responsibility for the cost of secure remands and have initiated four pilot ‘Youth Custody Pathfinder’ programmes, providing local authorities with an incentive to intervene early, cut reoffending and divert young people away from custody. Each Pathfinder area has received upfront investment and has flexibility in delivering results. Should areas fail to meet these aims they will pay back a proportion of their funding. This payment by results will drive innovation and reduce reoffending, but the taxpayer will only pay for programmes that work.
Victims of crime have a right to expect more than a system that punishes, but one striving to repair harm and prevent future crimes. It is crucial that our approach to young offenders sees issues through to the end and does not simply stop on leaving custody or completing a court order. We must provide the right support to ensure appropriate housing, education, training or employment opportunities are in place to provide stability with the aim of reducing reoffending.
I am a supporter of restorative justice, which offers an opportunity to assist offender rehabilitation but also gives victims a greater stake in the resolution of offences. In many areas restorative justice is already an integral part of tackling crime. Restorative justice typifies the shift from a centralised top-down approach as it is most effective when based on how victims, practitioners and communities want to respond to crime in their area. Analysis conducted by my department has shown that restorative justice can result in reducing the frequency of reoffending and higher victim satisfaction. It is already an established feature of youth justice, with mandated conferencing in Northern Ireland and part of referral panels in England and Wales. I believe it can also greatly benefit adults, but it is another area where youth justice holds lessons for the whole justice system.
Restorative Justice is part of the responsibility agenda. Errant youths and those responsible for them must be accountable for their actions, the necessary reparation and future actions to address the cause of the offending behaviour. By the time most of these children are in the clutches of the justice system the position is serious and their future prospects perilous. Inculcating a culture of responsibility for offenders-directly to victims as individuals, to society as a whole and to themselves for a future free from the oversight of the Criminal Justice system-is the change in approach we wish to see.