Justice from the Milk Tray man

6th February 2004 at 00:00
A former chocolate worker turned law professor has been appointed to cut youth crime. Philippa White reports

Professor Rod Morgan hated education, left school at 18, and started work naming chocolates for Cadbury's.

His "Manhattan lime" made a brief appearance in the Milk Tray box during the 1960s. "I thought it sounded exotic," he remembers.

He then decided to do something more worthwhile with his life, took a degree in politics and sociology, and entered the academic field of criminal justice.

Professor Morgan has just been named as the new chair of the Youth Justice Board for England and Wales, a post he will take up on April 5, at the age of 62.

"When most people are retiring I regard it as a wonderful opportunity to be told: 'Here you are old dog, learn some new tricks'."

The board was set up in 1998 and has a pound;394 million annual budget to oversee child jails, community punishments and initiatives to cut youth crime.

Professor Morgan describes it as the most successful public service reform of the Labour government (although it was planned by the Tories).

"The structure works, and it is producing good results," he said. "There has been a significant percentage reduction both in the number of juvenile offenders held in institutions run by the prison service, and in the rate of recorded reoffending" (see box, below).

A priority will be to sing the praises of community programmes, especially to the courts, so sentencers will know there is an effective alternative to custody.

Community programmes aim to tackle the underlying problems of young offenders and can involve intensive supervision and surveillance.

Professor Morgan also wants to improve the performance of some of the 155 local authority Youth Offending Teams overseen by the board. The teams bring together officers from social services, probation, education, health and the police to serve as a one-stop shop for all young offenders. "There is a lot of variation," he said.

Professor Morgan, an expert adviser to Amnesty International on the prevention of torture, said the accountability of the criminal justice system is the theme running through his life's work.

He was born in the village of Corfe Castle, Dorset. After fellowships at Southampton and Bath, he joined Bristol university in 1989 where he was made a professor and became dean of the law faculty. In 2001 he was appointed chief inspector of probation for England and Wales.

Professor Morgan is married to a Swedish teacher, now retired, and they have three children. Every year he makes an ocean voyage in a small boat which serves as a monastic retreat. "You make resolutions to reduce the crap in your life and increase the worthwhile," he said.


* Between 2000 and 2002 the number of children aged 10 to 17 who were found guilty or cautioned for an indictable offence fell. In 2000, 87,852 boys were in this category, compared with 82,434 in 2002. The corresponding figures for girls are 25,675 in 2000 and 23,325 in 2002.

* In the same period the number of over-18s who were found guilty or cautioned for an indictable offence rose. There were 298,309 men in this category in 2000 and 309.026 in 2002. There were 63,268 women in 2000 and 65,227 in 2002.

* There was a 22.5 per cent reduction in the reconviction rates of young people on community sentences in 2002, compared with 1997 against the predicted rate.

Researchers who looked into the basic skills of school-age young offenders on the most stringent supervision and surveillance programme discovered that:

* Young offenders' reading ages were five years below their chronological ages.

* 40 per cent had special needs.

* Only 19 per cent had received mainstream education in the six months prior to their conviction.

* 28 per cent were excluded from school.

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