Speaking to CYP Now, Lin Hinnigan said she believes the way youth justice is overseen will change once a government-ordered review of the system is completed.
She said that although she believes there will be a need for a body, or bodies, to supervise the sector in the future, it will “not be the YJB as it is now”.
The YJB was established by Tony Blair’s Labour government through the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. Besides overseeing youth justice services in England and Wales, it is currently responsible for commissioning youth custody places, placing children and young people in custody, making grants to local authority youth offending teams, advising the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), and commissioning and publishing research on preventing youth offending.
However, an interim report of a government-ordered review of youth justice, being conducted by Charlie Taylor, has suggested that responsibility for youth justice could be devolved to a local or regional level to a greater degree. It is also exploring the feasibility of devolving custody budgets.
“There won’t be the YJB as it is now,” Hinnigan said when asked about the future of the organisation.
“There is a role for a body or bodies to steer national standards, including improving workforce standards, and sharing effective practice, to make sure there is not too much of a postcode lottery. [But] I suspect it will look different from the current YJB.
“The risk is that everyone tries to reinvent the wheel. There’s also got to be some mechanism for intervening in poor performance.”
The YJB had previously been earmarked to be scrapped under the Public Bodies Bill but was given a late reprieve in November 2011 following strong opposition to the move in the House of Lords and from children’s sector organisations.
The plan at the time had been to incorporate the YJB into the MoJ as part of a youth justice division. Hinnigan has warned against any future supervisory body being part of central government.
“I would argue that the skills and expertise [of YJB staff] are not not skills that you have in civil servants,” she said.
“It is always quite hard to maintain that expert knowledge base. We bring people in from the sector – seconding people from YOTs. That gives you on-the-ground knowledge that civil servants don’t have.
“If it is subsumed into a department, you lose that specialist knowledge.”
Over the past decade, the number of first-time entrants to the youth justice system has reduced by more than 75 per cent. The number of young people in custody has reduced by nearly 65 per cent over the same time period, recently reaching a new low.
Hinnigan added: “This is a unique opportunity to reform the youth justice system and we are pleased to see so many of the ideas from the YJB presented in Charlie Taylor’s interim report.
“However, we’ve been clear that in advocating change we don’t want to forget the successes of the last 15 years – the work of YOTs and the reductions in numbers in custody. It is this success which has made possible the opportunities we are considering now.”