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Chairman of Youth Justice Board resigns condemning government policy

26th January 2007

The BBC can reveal that the man in charge of youth justice in England and Wales has resigned, sharply criticising Government policy on young offenders.

In an exclusive interview to be broadcast on BBC Two's Newsnight tonight at 10.30pm, the Chairman of the Youth Justice Board, Professor Rod Morgan, says youth courts and children's prisons are being "swamped" with minor offenders who are "cluttering up" the system.

Echoing the crisis with adult prisoner places, he tells Newsnight: "We're 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."

Professor Morgan says Government targets for bringing offences to justice are having "perverse consequences" by swelling prisoner numbers unnecessarily.

He says minor offences which used to be dealt with informally or out of court are now being pushed into an over-stretched criminal justice system. Good work to improve regimes in young offender institutions is being "undermined."

"The Youth Justice Board has a target to reduce the number of children and young people in custody by approximately 10% by 2008.

"That target is written into our business plan, it's been agreed with the Home Office, it was incorporated in the Home Office five-year plan which was published early last year and yet we're going backwards. The number of children and young people in custody is steadily rising."

Professor Morgan points to statistics which show that youth custody has a very poor chance of stopping criminal behaviour. Figures he says prove that the idea of building ever more prisons to solve the crisis is "the counsel of despair".

"Over 80% of 15-17-year-olds will be reconvicted within two years of release – and of those who've already got several convictions, the rate at which they'll be reconvicted is well over 90% - almost certainly...

"I have to say to you that a custodial establishment, no matter how good we make them, is the worst conceivable environment within which to improve somebody's behaviour."

Professor Morgan says: "We've got to invest more in early prevention work, with children who're starting to get into trouble, rather than locking up more and more young people after the horse has bolted."

The Youth Justice Board chairman tells Newsnight that he has been working behind the scenes in the Home Office trying to get a change of policy. But when ministers decided to advertise his job rather than extend his contract for another three years he chose to resign and tell his staff and the BBC about his concerns.

"It's self evident that you can't occupy a post such as mine if ministers don't have confidence in you and if you come to the point where you think that is clear for all parties to see then it is your duty to go and that is why I am going," says Professor Morgan.

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