Clarke’s mantra on youth offending is: “If it works, break it”

The influential Commons Public Accounts Committee published a report today on the youth justice system in England and Wales, writes shadow justice minister Andy Slaughter.

Andy Slaughter MP (Labour, Hammersmith) is the shadow justice minister, with responsibility for Youth Justice

The influential Commons Public Accounts Committee published a report today on the youth justice system in England and Wales. While broadly positive about the direction of travel in youth justice the report warned that the Tory-led government’s plans threaten to derail the good work done by Labour while in government.

According to the cross-party committee’s own statistics, the number of young people in custody fell by 14% over the course of the last Parliament to 2,200 people when Labour left office.

The number of first-time entrants to the youth justice system nearly halved in our last three years in power. The reoffending rate dropped 20% from 2000 to 2008. All positive steps.

The reason for this success was a growing understanding of the root causes of crime and acceptance that youth criminality is the result of multiple failures in society and the individual. We were right to adopt a multi-agency approach to youth crime:

• Creating local authority-based Youth Offending Teams (YOTs), which were successful in early intervention and prevention as well as using the freedom to innovate and experiment;

• Creating the Youth Justice Board which coordinates best practice across YOTs and worked with partner organisations – like the Magistrates’ Association and the Association of Chief Police Officers – in all parts of the justice system;

Introducing more alternatives to detention, diverting young people from the youth justice system; and

• Recognising that early intervention is far more effective than having to deal with a child who has become entrenched in the prison system.

Next week I will visit Oakley Secure Training Centre and the neighbouring Milton Keynes YOT to see more of the nitty-gritty of why Labour’s approach to youth crime was working. Secure Training Centres, a Labour innovation, focus on education and rehabilitation and have a higher staff-to-detainee ratio than Youth Offender Institutions.

What will this government do? We know the Ministry of Justice is facing one of the biggest cuts of any department – 23%. The Third Sector, social enterprises and YOTs are all under pressure from sharply declining central and local funding. It is incumbent upon the government in this period to ensure that we don’t lose many of these excellent schemes around the country.

To those that have been appeased by the Secretary of State for Justice’s progressive-sounding words, I warn that a contraction of funding on this scale will likely lead to a decline in the efficacy of the system, a rise in crime, the failure of schemes which if fully funded would have succeeded, and set back the progressive cause in justice for years.

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