The Prison Reform Trust has today (6 February) published a briefing and written to Liz Truss outlining our position following the government's response to Charlie Taylor's review of the youth justice system.
The briefing focuses on two key areas: reducing the numbers of children in custody; and improving and reforming the imprisonment of children.
The variation in child custody rates between neighbouring areas; rising disproportionality amongst black and minority ethnic children; the over representation of boys and girls with a care background; and the high numbers with mental health needs and learning disabilities remain key challenges to which the youth justice system must respond.
Whilst there are some positive commitments in the government's response, some of Taylor's key recommendations have been abandoned. Devolution of youth custody budgets; the national roll out of schemes to divert children away from the criminal justice system; reducing the disproportionate numbers of children in care in trouble with the law; and the introduction of Children's Panels all require reconsideration by the government to ensure that the welcome reduction in the needless imprisonment of children continues.
For those children that are still in custody, despite the excellent and committed work undertaken by the vast majority of staff, there has been a marked deterioration in the conditions in which children are held in custody. This was highlighted dramatically in the BBC Panorama investigation of Medway Secure Training Centre in 2016, but also reports from HM Chief Inspector of Prisons and the other inspectorates over the last two years.
We welcome the government’s commitment of an additional investment of £15 million in the secure estate for children and, apparently, a further £20m for the enhancement of staffing in the existing secure estate. However, proposals to develop small secure schools will need to be significantly different from the ill-conceived secure colleges previously planned in 2013, and the government's response does not tell us whether it shares Taylor's long term vision for the estate.
While so much remains uncertain, PRT believes the Youth Justice Board should retain its vital place in the system, ensuring that the many successes of the last decade are not lost while the challenges that remain are tackled with the benefit of the Board's experience and independence. The government's response has left as many questions unanswered as answered. There is much still to be done.