There is a dichotomy in politics that many of us want politicians to be honest which arguably explains the success of Jeremy Corbyn, yet at the same time we want political leaders who have a clear sense of what they are trying to achieve. This week as Parliament returned to its Westminster bubble Elizabeth Truss, Justice Secretary was interviewed by the Justice Select Committee for the first time. Ms Truss was asked about the review of youth justice, commissioned by Michael Gove a year ago. In September 2015 Charlie Taylor, former CE of the National College of Teaching and Leadership was asked by Michael Gove to lead a departmental review of the youth justice system for the Ministry of Justice. The review was established to explore how the youth justice system could be reformed and reoffending rates among under 18s brought down. It was to examine evidence on what works to prevent youth crime and rehabilitate young offenders, and how this is applied in practice; how the youth justice system can most effectively interact with wider services for children and young people; and whether the current delivery models and governance arrangements remain fit for purpose and achieve value for money. An interim report was published in February and the final report due in July was delayed by the Cabinet reshuffle.
Truss said that both she and the youth justice minister had met with Charlie Taylor since their appointments 8 weeks ago and the review is delayed, with no new publication date. “What we are planning to do is respond to that with concrete proposals later on this autumn, but we need, clearly, time to think,” she said. She added that there is work under way to improve youth custody, which has been plagued in recent times with concerns around levels of violence within young offender institutions and allegations of mistreatment of young people held at Medway Secure Training Centre. It is heartening that a Minister has conceded that thinking rather than reacting is important but on the other hand taking eight weeks to think about such an important matter and still not able to give a date for publication is deeply disturbing. A senior figure within the youth justice sector said: “The Taylor report is being rewritten so that it will no longer focus on secure schools.” Speaking in July, Charlie Taylor said he wanted to introduce secure schools with around 60 to 80 places that are “much closer” to the communities they are based in. This is of particular relevance for those of us here in Sussex as the nearest Youth Offender Institution is in Feltham, miles from the families of children who are sent there from our area. Taylor has also said he wants to see greater integration between youth justice and social care services.
Speaking in early May, weeks before his departure from the Government, Gove said “Charlie Taylor’s interim findings have made it clear that the places where young offenders spend time should not be junior prisons, but secure schools. I am announcing today that each of the Secure Training Centres will have a new governing body who will scrutinise and support those running each centre. This will be a first step towards giving these centres the type of oversight and support that we would see in an ordinary school. When Charlie’s final report is published, I hope we will be able to move swiftly to a model which ensures that the educational mission of these establishments is central to their existence. Based on the findings of the Independent Improvement Board, I will appoint a similar Youth Custody Improvement Board to work across the youth secure estate, to help to make sure that children are safe and to improve standards of behaviour management in each Secure Training Centre and Young Offender Institution that holds children, including those currently run by NOMS. I will confirm the Board appointments in due course. I am grateful to all the members of the Independent Improvement Board who delivered their important work at such impressive speed.”
There is a time to think and a time to do a U turn, we deserve to know which of these Ms Truss is engaged in and why! The small numbers of our children who are locked up each year need greater support and access to better education than the current system provides. This is not a time for posturing or prevaricating. The reoffending rate among young people is far too high and these reforms offered one way of reducing these rates. If they are to be dispensed with, we need to know what Truss has in mind, and have the confidence that they are not something developed on the back of an envelope!