Around 60 professionals gathered in Cardiff’s Maldron Hotel today to take part in the joint Ministry of Justice and Youth Justice Board consultation exercise on the government’s green paper, Transforming Youth Custody.
Presentations outlined the current figures and trends in youth custody and the government’s vision to place education at the heart of the youth secure estate.  Among the areas discussed were: tailoring education to the custodial setting; meeting the wider needs of young people; improving transitions between custody and community; and improving outcomes.
As in all public service settings currently, the backdrop for the proposed changes is one of austerity and the need to ensure value for money.  In a notoriously expensive part of the public sector, this is no small challenge!

© Jonny Matthew 2013

In my view, the paramount aim must always be to reduce offending.  If, as the National Audit Office estimates, around 5% of young offenders commit almost one third of offences, there is a clear need to get things right for this high need group.
The prevalence of impaired development, trauma-induced mental health problems, social exclusion and disadvantage, among these children, demands a different approach.  The entrenched nature of these issues and their stubborn resistance to quick-fix solutions , means that they have to be met by radical new methods.  The respective “short sharp shock” and “holding tank” mentalities of youth sentencing and associated custodial provision, have to change.
Recent research by the YJB is already calling into question the efficacy of short custodial sentences for young people, begging the question whether these resources might be re-assigned and brought to bear to prevent re-offending for the persistent few.  One avenue of exploration might be to end the meting out of ineffective short stays in custody, in order that resources might be focussed on those that need more prolonged and complex interventions.  Such treatment is best located in smaller custodial facilities where staff ratios and specialist education and health provision can work intensively to ameliorate the impact of deep-rooted criminogenic needs.  We’ll see…
John Drew, Chief Executive of the YJB, assured delegates that the government is genuinely open to creative thinking and wants to hear ideas from all sectors.  The consultation event seemed to be well received with a wide range of views expressed by a diverse professional group.
The closing date for submissions in response to the consultation was 30th April 2013