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‘Unexpected’ cuts to youth justice system could mean more children in custody

The number of children in custody may rise if further cuts of £9m to Youth Reoffending Teams (YOTs) are given the green light, the LGA has warned.

Councils say the latest cuts are “unexpected” and will be implemented on top of the savings already identified by the Youth Justice Board for this financial year, threatening to “throw agreed local plans into jeopardy”.

The “counterproductive” move could end up costing more due to the “increased likelihood” of more entrants into the youth justice system.

Cllr Roy Perry, chairman of the LGA’s children and young people board, said: “A further £9m reduction is likely to be counterproductive and will undoubtedly have a major effect on the amount of diversionary [services] and the vital preventive work that has enabled YOTs to bring down the number of first-time entrants to the youth justice system and lower reoffending rates.

“With the average cost of a young person in custody estimated at £100,000 per annum, it would only take 90 individuals to enter the youth justice system for one year and any planned savings will be wiped out in real terms.

“The danger of imposing such a reduction is that any short-term savings could well be outweighed by the long-term costs of an increased number of young people being involved in crime and at a later date, these same individuals remaining within the criminal justice system on reaching adulthood.

“If a person spends five years in the youth justice system they will have already cost the taxpayer more than half a million pounds. If you then add to this the cost of that individual being unable to work, perhaps claiming benefits or being involved in crime as an adult, the future costs begin to spiral making the attempted £9m of savings seem very short-sighted.”

YOTs, which work alongside councils, played a “leading role” in decreasing the amount of first-time entrants to the youth justice system by 75% over the past decade, according to the LGA.

They have already had to identify savings through staffing and support costs to cope with 40% cuts to services in recent years. The scope for further efficiency reductions is therefore “limited” and extra cash restrictions will “inevitably impact on the ability of councils and youth justice teams to work with young offenders, tackle gang and youth crime and engage young people in their communities”.

Perry added: “Youth offending teams are widely recognised to be the most successful part of the criminal justice system, working closely with young people to prevent first time offenders and reduce the overall numbers in custody.

“With the increase in the types of violent incidents young people are involved in, work of YOTs are more important than ever to local communities and are an effective way of addressing youth crime and youth violence.”

Councils also believe that the planned cuts will means court-ordered intervention will be prioritised over preventative work such as parenting and family support, early work with someone identified as being at risk of offending and restorative interventions.

The warning closely follows a similar criticism by the Association of Directors of Children’s Services and the Association of Youth Offending Team Managers in their submission to the Youth Justice Board’s consultation on how to make £13.5m of savings.

They had said: “The news of this in-year cut over and above the savings that have already been identified in 2015-16 is unexpected and will involve some very difficult decisions for local authorities. There is quite simply no more fat to trim.

“As staffing costs now make up the vast majority of spend, an in-year cut will have a significant impact on the ability of frontline staff to undertake the vital preventative work that has enabled YOTs to manage down first time entrants to the youth justice system and lower reoffending rates.

“Making staff redundant will not yield any savings in this financial year, in fact quite the opposite, it will add a further cost burden on local authorities in the form of severance payments as redundancy costs have not been budgeted for and anyway cannot be met out of grant funding.

“This means, ostensibly, that these further in-year cuts will simply be shunted onto local authorities to bear.”


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