Plans to transform youth custody in England and Wales have been set out (9 February 2016) in a report commissioned by the Ministry of Justice and prepared by behavioural expert and former head teacher Charlie Taylor. Secretary of State for Justice, Michael Gove, commissioned the review in September 2015. The review is examining evidence on what works to prevent youth crime and rehabilitate young offenders, and how this is applied in practice. It asks how the youth justice system can most effectively interact with wider services for children and young people, and considers whether the current delivery models and governance arrangements remain “fit for purpose” and achieve “value for money”.
The report (an interim report setting out initial findings) found that since 2006/07 the number of children in custody has declined by 64% - to its lowest recorded level. However the picture on re-offending was bleak with almost two thirds of children in custody go on to reoffend within a year of release.
On the question of education the report found that children in Young Offender Institutions (YOIs) are only receiving 17 hours of education every week against an expectation of 30 hours. Moreover around 40% of young people in under-18 have not been to school since they were aged 14 with nearly nine out of 10 having been excluded from school at some point. Interim findings suggest the youth justice system would be more effective and better able to rehabilitate young people if “education was at its heart”. The review therefore recommends that young offenders should serve their sentences in secure schools rather than youth prisons. The report suggests that smaller, local, secure schools would draw on educational and behavioural expertise to rehabilitate children and give them the skills they need to thrive on release.
In launching the report Charlie Taylor argued that “We need a resolute focus on giving children in trouble with the law the skills, qualifications and aptitudes to lead successful, law-abiding lives”.
The review will continue into the summer, with the remainder of the review examining the way young offenders are dealt with in court and the sentences available, how to prevent offending in the first place and how to reintegrate children back into the community following custody.
Justice Secretary Michael Gove welcomed the report – the final version of which will be presented in July 2016. Indeed, this is a priority area for the Ministry of Justice as its Departmental Plan for 2015-20 recently set out their headline objective to reduce reoffending by reforming prisons, probation and youth justice. Michael Gove appeared before the Justice Committee on 16 March 2016 to discuss prison reform.