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youth justice board

Minutes of the All-Party Penal Affairs Parliamentary Group, held on
15 May 2012 at 5.00 pm in Committee Room 6

Speaker :Frances Done CBE, Chair, Youth Justice Board for England and Wales
                With John Anthony, Youth Justice Board

Paul Goggins MP, chair
Lord Bradley
Lord Dholakia
Lord Elton
Lord Judd
Baroness Linklater of Butterstone
Earl of Listowel
Tony Lloyd MP
Lord Ramsbotham

Attendees: Geoff Dobson (Clerk to APPPAG), Julia Braggins (Minutes)

Paul Goggins MP opened the meeting, by saying what a pleasure it was to have Frances Done with them. He said that at every meeting that week he had returned to a theme common to those supporting the same football team. He thus introduced the speaker by saying that one of her previous roles had been as chief executive of the organising committee for the seventeenth Commonwealth Games, which had taken place in the magnificent surroundings of the Manchester City stadium, now known as the Etihad Stadium, which had reached global prominence earlier that week.  Frances Done had gone on to make such a great contribution in her work at the Youth Justice Board (YJB) and he knew that members of the meeting would be very interested to hear what she had to say.

Frances Done began by agreeing that she had felt very proud watching the team as they had arrived at Manchester Town Hall, although she herself supported Plymouth Argyle. It had been wonderful to see the stadium, which she would go on calling the City of Manchester Stadium, so vibrant. She continued:

‘I am really pleased to be here. What I thought I’d do is give a brief introduction under four headings. Firstly:  general progress and challenges. I’d like to talk briefly about the resettlement work that the YJB is leading – though bear in mind that everything we do is done in partnership with the whole of the youth justice system. I want to talk briefly about the youth justice custody pathfinder schemes which are really exciting. They involve payment by results but are very much in the grain of what we have been trying to do for some time. And then just a couple of minutes about some schemes that are really quite important. It’s particularly interesting that Lord Bradley is here because the youth justice liaison diversion scheme around mental health is a really important scheme with vast potential for the future. Then finally just a few minutes about post-18 work, and the things we are doing to look at the transition of young people out of the youth justice system.

Just in terms of general progress: it’s always very difficult to say in youth justice that things are going well, because obviously things happen every day that are not going well. Things happen that are really damaging to victims and to young people. But generally speaking the progress is being maintained, despite the real challenges about budgets and all the things that the Youth Offending Teams (YOTs) are facing. I think that is because basically the system has matured, and there is a very strong understanding of what we need to do to keep the progress going. So the first time entrant figures are still coming down, and as for the reoffending rate, although the headline rate has gone up, the real reoffending rate which is based on comparisons between comparable young people and offences is still going down. The custody numbers are at their lowest ever levels since accurate records were kept. We are now down to1804 young people in custody, I think, in March. That’s really encouraging, because the whole aspiration we have, of course, is to ensure that no young person goes into custody if it is possible and practical and appropriate for a community sentence to be given by the court. So all those things are encouraging but we all know that there are huge issues in our communities still and we need to do a lot better.

One of the things we have been concentrating on really hard in the last couple of years is resettlement, with a view to reducing reoffending, and supporting young people at the time when they probably need it most, when they come out of custody.  And what that means, obviously, is concentrating on helping young people get back to school, or training or a job, helping make sure they have a good housing situation – they are not sofa surfing, or on the streets even, as some children are when they leave custody – and making sure that they have some personal support. Because although those other two factors are the key, if they don’t have anyone to help them on a day to day basis, to support them, or be bothered about them, or care about them, then they will revert back to the groups where they feel comfortable. And usually that’s an offending group.

 So we started in the North West and we invited chief executives from local authorities into a young offender institution just to see whether it would make any difference.  And it did.   We got nine out of ten chief executives from the Greater Manchester area, and nine out of ten children’s services directors, all on the same day, into Hindley Young Offender Institution and the impact was amazing. They hadn’t really understood before that there were 250 of their young men in Hindley. From then on, the whole idea of resettlement took off. So now we have a whole group of YOTs working together, working with the young people who have got detention and training orders, as soon as they come in, on what their resettlement plans will be. We are working with third sector organisations, Construction Youth Trust, Princes Trust, Catch 22, any organisation locally that is prepared to be part of it. The third sector is dong a fantastic job, because they can often provide services in a way that is much more flexible, much more sensitive than the more formal local authority services.

 We have now got that set up in seven different areas of the country, with different groups of local authorities, all at different stages, and the results are really encouraging. I can’t give you official results because we have to wait until we have the elapsed time reoffending rates properly measured by the Ministry of Justice and I don’t want to pre-empt any of that because it would be wrong to do so. But on the ground, you’ll find that the groups of local authorities are really encouraged by the results into what impact this is having on whether children go back into custody; whether they reoffend; and if they do, how often they reoffend.  That is really important because there is a victim for every crime, so if you reduce the number of crimes you reduce the number of victims. There is also a scheme still going in Feltham, the Heron Unit, which will finish in the autumn. It has offered very intensive support for young people, and has gone very well too, although it was a much more expensive model.

I think the sign that this is going in the right direction is that when we have talked to the local authority consortia about not being able to carry on supporting the project manager posts we put in to start with, to help them get going, we have found that the groups of local authorities have been prepared to cough up the money themselves. That’s what we want, not just so that we can pull the money out, but because we want these things to sustain themselves, and to be run locally, and that’s been very encouraging.  It has also driven more cooperation between local authorities and YOTs on other issues as well, so it’s drawn them together in other ways and made it more likely that good results will be had.

Just to say about the youth justice custody pathfinders – a bit of a jargon title. What we have been doing for the last four years is trying to talk to local authorities about the potential for them to hold the custody budget. At the moment we hold it in the YJB. It comes from the Ministry of Justice. It’s a large budget; at the moment it’s running at about £230m a year, which is a lot of money for a relatively small number of children.  We have always believed that if that money was held by local authorities, and they had to pay the bill, there would be a great incentive for them to invest up front in young people, well before they become extremely expensive, not just in money but in terms of the damage they do. Local authorities were not very keen on that to start with, but over the years we have been talking it through, and getting them much more involved obviously around resettlement, and bit by bit they have come round. There are always arguments about how we’ll do it, and how much everyone is going to get, but there’s a general understanding now that this is the right thing to do. As from next April, following the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act, the cost of secure remands will transfer to local authorities. That’s a relatively small sum of money, £25m a year, but local authorities know that later on there will be devolution of the whole budget.  The focus that we’re getting from local authorities, with this coming up, is very significant and therefore we are already getting better results, and more efforts to keep people out of secure remand, and we expect that to continue. So that’s all going in the right direction.

On the pathfinders, when we asked for four areas to try out a deal whereby we would give them money up front to invest in services, and they would commit to a reduction in custody numbers, we got twelve groups of local authorities volunteering. I thought that was amazing. I thought we might not get four, but we got twelve groups and we were able to choose four: four boroughs in West London, seven boroughs in East London, Birmingham on its own because it’s very big, and West Yorkshire, and they are all working hard on it. A slight fly in the ointment was that they all signed up last April, and then the riots happened in August, which took everyone by surprise. The London groups have been a bit shaken, and Birmingham to some extent, but we have been working with them on that, and things have calmed down, they are still sticking with the plan, and I am optimistic. They are all trying different things. Some of them are investing in well-proven methods like multi-systemic therapy, which is a complicated way of saying working very intensively with families and the young person, which has got a proven effectiveness, in terms of scientific evidence. Some of them are concentrating on improving the  relationships with the  Crown Court, where the serious offences are dealt with, some of them are doing much more work on triage, stopping young people coming in earlier on, and making sure they don’t end up in custody. Whatever they do, it’s all about focusing on the particular young people they know are at risk, and that’s what we wanted. We don’t know the results of that yet, but I would be very surprised if they didn’t turn out to be successful. But anyway, on the way we are learning an awful lot about what is working in certain areas, and we bring these four areas together every four or five months and they all share their experiences and then they go away and think about whether they can try something that has been tried elsewhere.

I just wanted to say something about the new diversion schemes. Since the Bradley review, the Department of Health have really invested heavily in the whole idea of trying to identify vulnerable young people (and adults) at the point of arrest.  To make sure that rather than just going through into the system and getting charged, there is a real consideration of exactly what is affecting this young person, and what mental health needs, what learning disability, or speech language and communication needs they may have. The vast majority of young people that we deal with at the more serious end have got these needs in various combinations, and it’s about trying to work that out right at the beginning, using health professionals at the point where they can talk with the police and the YOT about what the charge should be if there is one, and if there isn’t a charge, then what other action should be taken. Again, this is looking really encouraging.  Although it costs millions and millions of pounds, when you think what happens if you don’t address issues at the right point, then it’s relatively small beer really. There’s a commitment, subject to the evaluations, to roll this out across England and Wales, by 2014.  Given the pressures there are on budgets, it’s really important that there is commitment to do this really positive work.

Then the final thing, which is a bit close to my heart: I have felt ever since I came in 2008 that there was a whole area of work that YJB was not addressing well enough, not because we didn’t bother, but because there were so many other things to concentrate on. But I think the maturity of the YJ system now has got to a point where we have to focus on what happens to young people of 17 as they go into the adult system. The answer is that for many of them it is like literally falling off a cliff. Because we hone down the way we deal with young people to the extent that they get a great deal of support. The support the YOTs give is very directly related to their need and the risks that they pose. But they can easily at 18 if they are in the community transfer to probation, with probation having no obligation to do anything to support them at all. That’s not probation’s fault. That’s just the set-up that probation has. Also in custody there are real possibilities that young people, who we have invested heavily in, who are in specialised units, with really good care and support, could be, and are, transferred to prisons where there is no support at all. Obviously we do our best to make sure that doesn’t happen, but that does happen and can happen. And apart from the risk to that young person, there’s the real likelihood that the good work that has been done to date will not be continued, and is therefore lost – or if not lost, then not built on. Probation are as keen as we are to work on this, and we are working together with probation and NOMS and government departments. There is a big programme of work around transferring information properly between YOTs and probation services, by putting it up in a cloud, and then probation can pull it down, and the pilot schemes in London were incredibly well received.  When we were turning off the pilots in order to get the MoJ to agree to a longer term scheme, the London YOTs and probation asked us to carry on the scheme, because there is a big issue about transferring information accurately. If you don’t know all that is known about a young person, how can you properly deal with them later on? You can’t possibly. So we are really working hard on that.

We are also working with local probation and YOT groups to try and come up with arrangements to decide which young people really need to carry on with the support they are getting, and how we can do that. This links in with all the work that the Transition to Adulthood Alliance (T2A) has been doing for a very long time. What we are trying to do is to bring some reality on the ground to all the plans and ideas that those bodies have had. There’s nothing new in all this: we are just trying to do something about it.

Finally we are working with NOMS on trying to get proper agreement as to what happens to young people in custody, and how we make sure that they only ever go into a 18+ custodial institution which can support them properly, and provide for their needs, and their further training and their education. So there’s an awful lot going on. It’s early days on all this but it’s a very important direction of travel, and we are very supportive of all the other agencies that are working on it. I think I’ll leave it there.

I’d just like to introduce you to John Anthony – we’ve changed the name of his post with all the restructuring that has been going on,  but I think his title is Head of the London Local Business Area for the YJB, and I know he’d be happy to answer any questions about London.’

Paul Goggins MP thanked Frances Done.