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David Burrowes: We must provide the leadership to reduce youth crime

Thank you for the opportunity to speak to this conference. I would like to pay tribute to the contribution of NACRO in the work of crime reduction and particularly youth justice. Speaking to you again following last years conference in Warwick allows us to both ask the question 'what has been learnt over the last 12 months' and over the next 20 minutes attempt to answer it!

As you have no doubt heard already, the title of this conference, "Wasted Lives" echoes the title of the Nacro and Princes Trust report of ten years ago. These are also the very words which often entered my mind a decade ago practicing as a criminal defence solicitor.

My first client, let's call him Mark, had great potential with dreams of weightlifting for Britain. However, he began a different career path at Enfield Police Station being charged with common assault. Over the next ten years he went in, out, and mainly in the criminal justice system. He "graduated" to burglaries, from garages to houses, and upgraded from cannabis use to heroin and then crack cocaine with the resulting move into violent robberies. As he went down to the cells at Enfield Magistrates contemplating a long stretch inside, he began to cry. The bravura of being one of the most prolific criminals in Enfield had gone. What did he want? He wanted his father. Sadly that relationship, along with those with his girlfriend, son, mother and grandparents had all been damaged by his criminal activity.

In that one example which you could all repeat and add to from your own experiences as practitioners, there are many wasted lives, offenders as well as victims. One of the reasons I am in Parliament is a resolution to reduce the numbers of wasted lives like Mark's, and so it is a pleasure to speak to you about such an important issue today.

Can I be clear that youth crime is a priority for the Conservative Party. I have over the last twelve months been undertaking a review of the youth justice element of youth crime and it has been a pleasure to meet many practitioners in the field and to see your commitment to improve the lives of young people. But what frustrates and gets in the way of producing better outcomes?

We have identified continued problems in joining up youth justice services with those mainstream services that are so important to the prevention and resettlement agenda. As you are probably only too aware, this problem has plagued the youth justice system despite the 1998 Act. The Audit Commission's report in 2004 conveyed the widely-held view that more needed to be done to connect the justice function with the welfare function at a local level. However the recent initiative around the Youth Crime Action Plan (YCAP) represented a disappointing response to this ongoing tension. Many in the field have expressed the view to us that the YCAP was a missed opportunity, and represented a short-term sticking plaster rather than a more long term solution. The Youth Justice Board's (YJB's) dual sponsorship with the Ministry of Justice and the Dept for Children, Schools and Families should have represented a solid platform on which to develop the local partnership agenda. However we were instead treated to a Whitehall equivalent of 'Punch and Judy', I will leave you to guess who is Punch and who is Judy, as the MoJ and DCSF failed to adequately reconcile how the existing architecture around youth offending teams might be better co-ordinated with children's services.

In fact given the Government's present predicament in managing the public finances, a year on from the publication of YCAP it is in doubt whether even its central elements might be delivered. For example, we are aware that there is real concern that the planned uplift in preventative programmes, limited as they currently are, may be squeezed as part of the MoJ's emergency budgetary measures to balance its books by next year. This not only would disrupt the work of local authorities and agencies in implementing the YCAP agenda as presented last year, but would also create additional pressures for the future. In the context of the current economic environment where the Home Office itself has admitted that both adult and youth crime will rise, it is imperative that we maximise all opportunities to both prevent and reduce youth offending. If youth justice is ignored the impact will be great for the police service, courts and prison system, and the wider welfare system for children and young people. Without dedicated attention there will be more wasted lives. A renewed focus on prevention and resettlement is fundamental to providing an effective youth justice system.

Secondly and more specifically there are continued concerns over the role and cost of youth custody. Given that the youth secure estate assumes a significant proportion of funding within the youth justice system, £325 million taking up approximately two-thirds of the YJB's own budget, it is obviously important to consider what benefit this investment has delivered.

Custody will always be a necessary option within the youth justice system in order to address the serious and recurrent offending behaviour which is experienced with a minority of young offenders. However as practitioners and policy-makers are aware, there is growing evidence that the scale and poor outcomes of custody make it part of the problem rather than the solution to youth offending.

Children and young people passing through the secure estate are more likely to re-offend than those who are directed into community-based sentences. Instead of supporting the rehabilitation of young offenders, the secure estate has often served to only delay offending behaviour. It is simply not good enough for the Government to be satisfied with young offenders re-offending at a slower rate. This situation can no longer be sidelined, especially in light of the costs that the secure estate places on the taxpayer and the need for increased efficiency. We need to justify future investment in this area on the basis of genuine youth justice outcomes. This means that the selective use of youth custody should support the genuine rehabilitation and resettlement of young offenders, rather than settle for simply recycling them.

Thirdly there is little relationship between the use of custodial options and the necessary emphasis on programmes focusing on prevention and early intervention. This dilemma cuts across central and local government - whilst the YJB is responsible for meeting the costs of the youth secure estate, local government and local agencies engage with children and young people through the spectrum of direct children's services, education, health, and wider welfare provision. We need to ensure that local agencies and partnerships are able to relate to the administrative and financial consequences of the youth secure estate, when they are considering the organisation of their youth justice and mainstream youth-orientated services. I mentioned earlier Government not sidelining its responsibility and as far as local government and agencies are concerned, they also should not be able to sideline their responsibility in considering the financial and social impact of inadequate preventative and resettlement provision when offenders enter the youth justice system.  Local authorities can also tend to compartmentalize responsibility. the youth offending teams involvement as you know is to manage the statuary justice aspects and prevent re-offending without a remit to deal with the wider underlying needs the child may have.  The youth justice interventions are based on a seriousness or persistence tariff not often calibrated to meet the rehabilitative needs of the young person.  Their needs, often involving social care, are not being met during the sentence let alone afterwards.

The overlying objective should be to align information and incentives across national and local agencies involved in the youth justice agenda, rather than leaving them to struggle through the currently disjointed landscape. We need to ensure that the necessary leadership, information and incentives are in place so that everyone in the youth justice system - the offender, the victim, the state and the voluntary sector is clear about who is responsible for reducing offending.

The Conservative approach to youth justice policy is building on the principles established in our recent Green Paper "Prisons with a Purpose". This sets out a range of proposals providing increased accountability and incentives in the adult prison system. Available on the Conservative Party website and worth a read on the way back from Nottingham!

With youth justice we are focusing on the following themes: rebalancing the youth justice system in favour of prevention and early intervention rather than custody; reforming the structure of custodial sentences so they better support resettlement and rehabilitation; and encouraging better partnership working between local services relevant to children and young people's welfare.

Firstly let's consider the imbalance between prevention, early intervention and youth custody. As you know, the costs of the secure estate are largely borne by central government through the Youth Justice Board whilst the levers supporting preventative programmes are largely held by local authorities and other local agencies. Therefore a fundamental area for reform is to enable local agencies to take more direct responsibility for the costs of youth custody. This should help to define a clearer trade-off between preventative and reactive policy interventions.

It will encourage local agencies to develop a focus on the work in the early years when substantial improvement in behaviour can be achieved in order to contain costs of custodial solutions where behavioural improvement will be more limited. For example - work of Chance UK and Hounslow Action for Youth...It is high time that local authorities are given an incentive to promote alternatives to custodial placements and to know how many of their young people are in custody and the resulting costs. Having responsibility for custodial budgets could help plug the significant gap in providing joined up local youth justice.

The basic problem is that most local authorities do not actually know how many young people are in custody from their area. They do not know the costs and do not properly consider whether their policies in prevention and resettlement are making a difference to reducing offending.  We have Crime and Disorder Partnerships where the elephant in the room, namely how many young people are in custody and the associated costs is not properly considered. For example, does Lambeth know that on 31st May 2008, there were 70 of their young people locked up but in Hackney there were 40? Do these authorities consider that the weighted average bed costs mean that tax payers are spending approximately £5.25 million on keeping these young people in Lambeth locked up yet Hackney is costing £3 million? Is there anything that Hackney is doing which Lambeth is not? The reality is that local authorities have no incentive to know because they do not have any responsibility for the custody budget.

The point is made even clearer if we look at the statistics for Manchester and Newcastle. Again on the 31st May 2008, Manchester had 104 young people in custody, but staggeringly, Newcastle had a mere 18 in custody. This means that tax payers are spending approximately £7.8 million to keep young Mancunians locked up, but only £1.3 million to lock up young Geordies. Is it that Geordies are better than Mancunians?
Whilst Alan Sheerer may have a view on that, what does seem to be the case is that Newcastle has a number of intervention projects which may well be having a profound affect on custody numbers. Again, the problem is that the local decision makers in Newcastle and Manchester do not have the financial incentive to provide long term sustainable interventions which will drive down re-offending rates and in so doing, reduce numbers of young people in custody. Would it not be better that the good work going on in Sunderland Local Authority achieving Beacon Status for reducing re-offending is shared by other local authorities having the financial incentive in relation to the custody budget. This is an area of policy which is easier said that done but it may be appropriate to roll out such a policy in particular regions of England and Wales. Or to focus initially on those young people on remand and to devolve this custodial budget to local authorities.

We also want to ensure that when custody is the only option for a young offender it leads to successful rehabilitation. Prison Governors need to be incentivised to provide rehabilitation and resettlement based on the outcome of reducing re-offending. For example the composition of a typical DTO is split between a community and custody element, with the average total duration being around 6 months. It is questionable whether beyond keeping a young person off the street for a few weeks, what positive outcomes can be achieved in such a short space of time. We are exploring the lengths of terms of imprisonment with the intention of less young people in custody but for a longer period of time. In other words, if the custodial option is required, the length of the sentence should be to ensure that interventions focused on successful rehabilitation and subsequent resettlement are given sufficient opportunity to succeed.

Therefore we are exploring whether a minimum twelve month DTO - 6 months detention and 6 months training should be adopted. Before you think I am reverting to a stereotype of 'lock em up and throw away the key', may I assure you that we want to transform the secure estate to have the purpose of rehabilitation. For example longer sentences provide the opportunity for more effective programmes related to behavioural management and formal skill through education and training, and durable resettlement outcomes once offenders were released. Secondly we should also not underestimate the financial and social impact of the stop-start nature of shorter sentences.

The big impact on cost and continued wasted lives is in the high re-offending rate. We need to be incentivising managers and YOI Governors to rehabilitate and resettle young offenders. We believe that 'less for longer' may be the most sustainable way to improve custodial outcomes. Such a reform of the custodial estate would need to go hand in hand with more robust community penalties which youth courts will have the confidence to impose; in particular opening up of the prospect of a residential component to non-custodial sentences. We also recognise that a problem over the last ten years and has been the constant legislative changes. We want therefore to see how the launch of the Youth Rehabilitation Orders in November works out.

We need to be more creative and ambitious when it comes to placements for young people. For example, if the custody threshold is reached, we need to see whether the power available to the YJB to place a young offender in an alternative institution to a YOI such as a residential drug rehab should be explored. The plans by East Potential for a so-called Young Offender Academy also have much to commend them, particularly providing local youth justice solutions, residential and non-residential, secure and non-secure.

I would finally like to turn briefly to the need to improve local partnerships between specialist youth justice and mainstream services, and the role that the voluntary sector may play in progressing these objectives. On the first issue of joining up youth and mainstream services a particular priority is what I call the need to tackle 'tail-end failure' across these mainstream services as they relate to children and young people, in order to reduce the risk of vulnerable children becoming tomorrow's young criminals. My colleague Theresa May has set out how we intend to reform welfare to expand use of the voluntary sector through better local commissioning. We intend to apply similar principles to the youth justice sector. For example, we are interested in the role that social enterprise organisations can play in supporting local partnerships in areas such as education and skills training. The continuity between criminal justice sentences in the community and custody and reintegrating into a local community needs addressing. Too often the voluntary sector is squeezed out of the criminal justice system or squeezed into a restricted core day. We will ensure that the voluntary sector is at the heart of prevention, rehabilitation and resettlement. 

However, issues raised at the G20 meeting today is likely to be the focus of media and press attention today. However, issues today are not irrelevant. The economic and social need for a new direction in youth justice is clear and the demand for improved outcomes for children and young people is great.

The perception in the media and debate on youth crime is often to get young offenders 'out of sight, out of mind'. However, there are too many wasted lives and collateral damage to victims and communities to be a hidden issue.

These difficult economic times and the likely impact on youth crime and challenge for public finances makes the need for reform of youth justice even greater. We are committed to rise to the challenge and provide the necessary leadership to reduce youth crime and ensure that Mark, who I introduced at the beginning and individuals like him, will not waste lives but fulfil their potential.

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