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Friday, January 26, 2007

A significant resignation

The resignation of Professor Rod Morgan as Chair of the Youth Justice Board is a very significant blow to the Labour Government, if only because of the way that it has exposed their rather sterile and inadequate approach to crime and disorder.

In her response to the resignation, the Welsh Liberal Democrat Cardiff Central MP, Jenny Willott, sums it up:

“Professor Rod Morgan’s stinging attack on Blair’s disastrous criminal justice legacy is the latest piece of evidence that Labour have got it horribly wrong. I’m sure it won’t be the last.

“His harsh critique is testament to this Government’s decade long media-driven regime that has resulted in a record number of young people behind bars while paedophiles are being given breathing room outside jail after the Home Secretary’s panic measures last week.

“Young people have been summarily demonised, crammed into prison places, with no hope of getting the rehabilitative care they need and ultimately been driven towards, rather than guided away from, a life of crime. It is no wonder that two-thirds of offenders re-offend within 2 years.

“The prison population for under 20 year olds has risen from under 2,900 in 2000 to over 3,300. There were 224 more young people behind bars last December than the year before and there has been a 25% increase in the number of young Welsh people imprisoned since last year.

“Wales has so few places to accommodate the conveyor belt of young offenders being sent to prison that 84% are held in England, hundreds of miles away from their friends and families.

“These support groups are essential in helping young people reform themselves and reintegrate back into society. Some Welsh young offenders are held as far away as Newcastle or Suffolk.

“Once again, the message from experts in the criminal justice system is that this Government is incapable of making the public safer and of reforming criminals to become law-abiding citizens.”

As Professor Morgan says we are standing on the brink of a prisons crisis:

"We have tonight lots of people in police cells because there is no space for them in custody, and that's true for children and young people also."

"I regard a 26% increase in the number of children and young people that are being drawn into the system in the past three years as swamping."

He went on to say that government targets for bringing offences to justice are having "perverse consequences" by swelling prisoner numbers unnecessarily. Despite the fact that the Youth Justice Board had a Home Office-agreed target to reduce the number of young people in custody by around 10% by 2008 we are going backwards.

Professor Morgan also argued that reoffending rates for those sent to youth custody were extremely high. This means that "a custodial establishment, no matter how good we make them, is the worst conceivable environment within which to improve somebody's behaviour".

This Labour Government has demonised young people in pursuit of easy votes and yet it has failed to tackle the underlying causes of youth crime and anti-social behaviour. The result is that the problem has come back hard and bitten them.

They have failed to invest in facilities to enable young people to engage constructively with their local community and they failed to invest in prisons to accomodate the growing numbers they have been sending there. Re-offending rates are out of control and there appears to be no attempt do the necessary groundwork to arrest that trend. It is not the Home Office that is unfit for purpose, it is this government's policies.
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