Ministry of Justice

Minister sets out vision for youth justice

24 November 2010

Annual Youth Justice Convention, Newport, South Wales

Crispin Blunt

Minister Crispin Blunt sets out his vision for the youth justice system.

[As delivered]


I am grateful for the opportunity to speak to you today. I would very much like to have been with you in person, but unfortunately parliamentary constraints mean that I have to remain in London. But I was keen to at least address you in a ‘virtual’ way, and to give you a sense of the Government’s vision for the youth justice system.

I was surprised – and delighted – to be appointed to the Ministry of Justice and to gain responsibility for youth justice. The multi-agency YOT approach to justice that is embedded in local communities and heavily focused on rehabilitating offenders is the right way forward. One of my aims in my job is to adapt the adult system on the lessons from the youth system.

I welcome the opportunity to meet people – from the public sector as well as in voluntary and private sectors – who are doing excellent work to tackle youth offending. I have benefited from seeing the work in my local YOT and at Medway Secure Training Centre, Vinney Green Secure Children Home and Ashfield YOI.

I want to thank you collectively for the work you are doing. The youth justice system is improving – the number of young people entering the criminal justice system, the proportion of young people reoffending and the number of young people in custody have all fallen. These are significant achievements for which the youth justice system should be proud. However I also want to take the opportunity today to share with you some of my thoughts on the challenges we face, and to explain some of the principles that will guide us as we look to the future.

But before I do that, I think it is important to say something on the recent decision this Government took about the Youth Justice Board (YJB).

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You will know that we have decided that the YJB will cease to function as a Non-Departmental Public Body and the leadership of youth justice and functions of the YJB will move into the Ministry of Justice.

This is not a decision that has been taken in isolation. This administration does believe Ministers should step up to the plate and exercise and accept responsibility where appropriate. So we have taken similar decision with hundreds of bodies across government and made Ministers more directly accountable again.

Over the last decade the YJB has played a critical role in transforming the delivery of youth justice. It has successfully overseen the establishment of local Youth Offending Teams, created a safer, more distinct secure estate and has fulfilled an important role in reducing offending and re-offending by young people. I pay tribute to the staff of the YJB for the work they have done.

But with Ministers making themselves more accountable, independent oversight of the youth justice system is no longer required and that the Ministry of Justice is able to lead an effective system going forward, building on the improvements that have already been made.

Let us be clear that by integrating the YJB’s functions into Ministry of Justice we will bring existing experience and knowledge from the YJB into the Ministry of Justice. The aim is to lead a youth justice system that protects the public whilst also focusing on the particular needs of children and young people. We will ensure that a dedicated focus on young people remains. We will also ensure that the focus on preventing offending by young people continues. I know that my officials are working closely with the YJB leadership and I wish to thank Francis Done and John Drew and look forward to working with them throughout the transition period to ensure this transition into the Ministry of Justice is a success.

I recognise that there are a number of partners, including those who deliver youth justice on the ground who have an interest in how the new national governance structure will work. That is why my Department and the YJB will work with the full range of partners including the Welsh Assembly Government and key Whitehall departments as we bring YJB functions in to the Ministry of Justice.

It is important that we all continue our business as usual while these changes are being made. The Public Bodies Bill, which is taking forward the necessary legislative changes, and work to transition functions into the MoJ may take some months. It is critical that in the interim the Youth Justice Board continues to carry out its everyday role and that no functions suffer as a result of the changes. I look to you in this room to help make sure that this happens.

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The Challenges

I said I would speak about the challenges we face and our vision for the future.

Firstly, as you know, we face an unprecedented economic situation. The Spending Review set out the challenge that we now face to reduce the deficit, and the part that the Ministry of Justice – and all partners involved with youth justice – must play.

Despite an increased investment in youth justice over the period of the last government there is a lack of public trust in the system. The public remain concerned about becoming a victim of crime, and well under half have confidence in the effectiveness of the justice system to deal with young people in particular. They see the high reoffending rates of young offenders who are released from custody with nearly 75% reoffending within one year.

And too little is done to ensure that young people who offend pay back to victims and to their communities for the harm they have caused – whether this is direct or indirect.

The current system does not incentivise agencies to invest in preventing offending. In fact, local agencies financially benefit when a young person is taken into custody.

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The Vision

For many of you, these challenges will sound all too familiar. However, what is new is the extent to which we need to transform our system. This is not about cutting spending – Ken Clarke made this clear in his first speech as Justice Secretary.

We have a once in a generation opportunity to think carefully and creatively about how we reform the youth justice system to more effectively reduce offending.

I want to set out for you today some of the key areas that we wish to address.

Firstly, secure accommodation will remain the most appropriate place to deal with a small proportion of young offenders. And we must accept that there will be occasions when a remand to custody will also be appropriate for a young person. But I believe the use of custodial remand is currently too high and I am keen to see this addressed. Spending on youth remand could be better used to develop local solutions which would be more cost effective in the long term, and allow young people to be diverted away from a potentially unnecessary period in custody.

Secondly, I believe there is still not enough emphasis placed on the importance of young offenders paying back to society, and especially to victims, for the harm they have caused. Using restorative justice approaches is a crucial element of this. I fully support the principles of restorative justice in bringing together those who have a stake in a conflict to collectively resolve it; both as an alternative to the criminal justice system and as an addition to it.

Thirdly, I am also clear that in order to make real progress in reducing reoffending and protecting the public, we must look to do more to address the factors that cause these individuals to offend, and go on offending. 

A radical way in which we can achieve this is to free up professionals, and involve a wider range of partners from the private and voluntary sectors to take innovative approaches to dealing with offenders. We want agencies to be driven by results, not burdened by targets. We committed in the Coalition Agreement to introducing payment by results so are considering a number of options for how we might do this in the youth sphere.

We also recognise that more needs to be done to encourage the kind of integrated and cross-agency working needed to tackle offending at a local level. We want to incentivise local partners to collaborate and align their priorities – for example through the community budgets for families with multiple problems that were announced as part of the spending review.

The level of funding from Ministry of Justice for Youth Offending Teams over the next spending review period are yet to be finalised.  I can confirm that there will continue to be a youth justice grant from the centre that is directed specifically to YOTs and is outside of area based grants to local authorities. More than ever we need YOTs and all partners involved with youth justice to work together to ensure that the local delivery of youth justice is properly resourced.

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Big Society

As part of the Big Society, we want to engage and empower local communities which will bring about changes in the delivery of services and ultimately impact on reducing re-offending among young people. To some extent the Big Society is already embedded in the youth justice system. There are approximately 10,000 volunteers already working within the youth justice system, many as local Youth Offender Panel members for the Referral Order. Others act as mentors, appropriate adults, literacy coaches and provide positive activities.

In particular, the direct engagement of volunteers through referral order panels is a clear example of how we can better engage and empower local people and we have already encouraged greater flexibility in recruiting and retaining volunteer panel members. This fits in with one of the main flagship commitments of the Big Society. 


We want to listen to new ideas to improve the criminal justice system, and will publish a Green Paper before Christmas setting out more detail on our plans for reform. The Green Paper will be subject to consultation, and we would particularly welcome your views, given your interest and experience in this important field.