Youth justice should be devolved to Wales, says Keith Towler

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Media caption"We're dealing here with the country's most complex, dysfunctional people"

Calls for youth justice to be a devolved matter have been echoed by the Children's Commissioner for Wales.

Keith Towler said it needed to be done soon and would help cut crime.

The Youth Justice Board (YJB) currently has responsibility in both Wales and England.

In March, a report on Welsh powers recommended youth justice be managed in Wales which Mr Towler said would make a "massive difference" in the way young people in trouble are supported.

He explained that Wales could then "really work out what resources we need to serve our children and young people the best".

Currently, Wales has two secure facilities for young people under the age of 18: Parc Prison, near Bridgend, has a young offenders wing, with 64 beds and there are 10 beds at Neath's Hillside Secure Children's Home, where young people with the most complex needs are sent.

Latest figures from March, show that 49 young people from Wales were in secure custody.

Thirty-four were at Parc and Hillside, while 15 were sent to facilities in England.

Although the YJB's aim is to send young people from Wales to a Welsh unit, there is no facility in north Wales so young people are sent to facilities in England.

'Complex task'

Specialist resources for Welsh young people have been established at a young offenders institution in the north west of England.

Mr Towler said: "The Youth Justice Board has a complex task to decide where young people go.

"They work really hard, I know, to make sure young people are located in custody as close to home as possible. But I would have to say that doesn't happen as often and for all young people. We've got to do something about it."

In 2004, the YJB and Welsh government published its All Wales Youth Offending Strategy but with the number of young people being sentenced to secure custody declining significantly, Mr Towler believes it is time to push forward with a wholly Welsh approach.

"We would take an approach based on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child," he said.

"We would address their individual welfare needs, we'd understand the communities they come from, and Wales as a country would deal with its own youth offending problem.

"And what we'd discover is that in doing that, we could manage it, we could appropriately support every young person in that way, and it would be better for those children, better for those young people, and better for our communities at large.

"We've got to ensure that if there is a move to do what Silk recommends, to devolve youth justice, that the UK government and Welsh government negotiate the resources that are required, based on the numbers in the youth justice system. We can then decide how to use it."

'Effective system'

In response, Dusty Kennedy, head of YJB Cymru, said: "The devolution of further powers to the Welsh government is a matter for the UK parliament.

"Notwithstanding this, our priority is to ensure there continues to be an effective youth justice system in Wales.

"If, in the future, wider devolution is agreed, the YJB will work with both governments to aid an efficient transition, ensuring that the significant successes of current arrangements are maintained.

"This should include the retention of an arms length body providing national leadership in Wales to youth justice organisations, including locally owned youth offending teams."

A Welsh government spokesperson said: "We will be publishing our response to the Silk findings before the summer recess, but the commission was set up by the UK government, and we look forward to their response setting out how they plan to take forward the commission's recommendations."

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