The move catapulted the thorny issue of how the Government deals with young offenders right to the top of the news agenda – a pleasing final achievement for Rod Morgan, who in his exit speech launched a stinging attack on Labour’s law-and-order policies.
Despite, and possibly because of, the departure of such an outspoken boss, the YJB’s energetic director of comms Sean Larkins is upbeat about his organisation’s campaigning prospects.
The 39-year-old – who had only just returned from a holiday in Australia when he had to sit down with Morgan to thrash out the latter’s exit strategy – says: ‘Rod has successfully raised the profile of these issues to such a degree that the person who comes in to replace him will already have a head start.’
In his two years at the YJB, which is funded by the Home Office and oversees the youth justice system in England and Wales, Larkins has steered the organisation’s involvement in the debate on the ‘criminalisation’ of British youth.
In a culture where words such as ‘yob’ and ‘hoodie’ are bandied around by media and politicians, convincing the public that young people convicted of crime should largely be kept out of prison is a tough brief – particularly when it involves challenging the sceptical right-wing press.
‘If I didn’t think I could stop the papers demonising young people, I wouldn’t be here,’ Larkins says, talking to PRWeek in a café near his St James’s Park office.
He adds: ‘Every year there is a different moral panic, and at the moment it is about young people. Fewer are offending, yet somehow we are locking more of them up, with record numbers behind bars.’
Tackling chronic overcrowding in young offenders’ institutions and encouraging investment in restorative justice is the aim of the YJB. ‘This is not about having a bleeding heart but about being socially responsible,’ Larkins argues.
Larkins has a militant edge to him, describes himself as ‘a bit of a rebel’, and has a CV that states an interest in ‘counter-factual history’.
He talks quickly – fired no doubt by his enthusiasm for the YJB cause (and, perhaps, by the cappuccino he is sipping).
Immaculately presented, he nominates The Body Shop founder Anita Roddick as a hero (‘she lives and breathes social justice’), along with NHS architect and socialist icon Nye Bevan.
He joined the YJB from the Central Office of Information – where he held various consultancy roles and was latterly in charge of advising on how to reach marginalised groups – and is also a former Forster Company senior account director.
Ten years ago he handled global corporate comms for Roddick’s company.
A true urbanite, Larkins lives with his partner of 18 years in London’s Russell Square. He says they still visit the occasional nightclub, but insists that the party lifestyle is mostly behind them and that their main hobbies these days are ‘urban walks, travelling and hosting dinner parties’.
Both professionally and personally, Larkins obviously relishes a challenge – he confides that he and his partner have decided to foster a child. ‘Yes I am scared,’ he shrugs. ‘What if we don’t like him – or her? Worse, what if the child doesn’t like us?’ He jokes: ‘What if we come home one day and he or she has disappeared with the TV?’
Professionally, at least, Larkins is less fazed by the challenges that undoubtedly await him during 2007.
The year ahead was already set to be one of the most high-profile in the YJB’s history, with inquests planned following a number of deaths of young people while in custody.
The sudden exit of his boss, though, has further increased the pressure on the organisation.
‘We will get our voice heard, if not via our chair then via stakeholders such as The Prince’s Trust,’ he insists. ‘We are leading a movement and we are not on our own.’
CV - Sean Larkins
Youth Justice Board, director of comms
Central Office of Information, head of inclusivity consultancy
Central Office of Information, strategic consultancy manager
The Forster Company, senior account director
Freelance comms consultant
The Body Shop International, global corporate comms manager