The Ministry of Justice has just published a comprehensive review of the Youth Justice System in England and Wales. Published in December 2016, the report outlines key issues and challenges within the system and a change in approach towards youth justice in the UK, moving away from punitive responses and towards diversion and treatment. The central themes in the recommendations are for a devolved youth justice system and a focus on education.
The report notes that the increase in violence in the youth justice system in England and Wales is partly due to a shortage of adequately trained and experienced staff. Staff shortages have led to an increase in the time spent in cells by young people and a reduction in service provision, with “too little access to education, health, services, and staff they know.” (Paras 127-128, pp. 36-37)
The report also identifies that the presence of separate staff responsible for enforcement of rules and response to disorder and violence “exacerbates the problems of engaging and safeguarding children.” (Para 144, pp. 40-41)
Author of the report, Charlie Taylor goes on to state:
“I believe that having a distinct group of staff performing this role actually raises the risk of violence, and they can fall back on coercion or physical restraint when confronted by a resistant child. Alternative provision and special residential schools do not have such a group of staff because everyone working there has experience and expertise in working with children, preventing and managing conflict, and ensuring compliance with the rules through support and persistence. […] In Secure Schools I would like to see behaviour management in the hands of skilful, well-trained education, health and welfare support workers.”
A key recommendation is to change the system of youth justice in England & Wales to one focused on ‘Secure Schools’, to be run by local authorities. These should be:
- Run, governed and inspected as schools;
- Accommodate up to 60-70 children and be located in the regions they serve;
- Considerable autonomy should be devolved to their heads;
- Provide children with a tailored package of support and education; and
- Deliver improved and better-integrated health services.
The core principle of this approach is one of education being the key response to youth offending. This approach would involve these smaller facilities with highly-skilled staff trained in conflict prevention, amongst their other duties. The report notes that “The quality of staff in Secure Schools will be critical to the success of these institutions” with an emphasis on “preventing and managing conflict, and ensuring compliance with the rules through support and persistence”. (Para 144, pp. 40-41)
The report clearly states that education and employment are some of the most effective approaches towards the prevention of youth crime. The report notes that slow progress has been made in increasing the focus on education for youth in detention. This is due to staff shortages resulting in the lack of ability to effectively provide for these services.
It is further noted that containment will often be prioritised over effective education, “Rather than preparing children for life on the outside, too often these establishments seem to be teaching children how to survive in prison.’” (Para 134, p. 38) In order to ensure the effective implementation of education in the youth justice system, the report emphasises the need for high teaching standards and a therapeutic approach.
To read the full report, click here.