Youth Offending

It’s almost a year since ADCS published a policy paper on youth justice, a joint endeavour bringing together strategic and political leaders with managers of youth justice teams to articulate our collective concerns and ambitions for children in conflict with the law. In it we called for fundamental changes in youth justice policy and practice to ensure we continue to divert more children away from the system whilst ensuring it better meets the needs of those already in contact with it.

The dramatic reduction in the numbers of children receiving cautions, convictions or who have any contact with the youth justice system over the last decade is a good news story and there is much the adult justice system could learn… In the dim and distant past I used to work in the youth justice system – there is much to be proud of in the reforms that have taken place. However, these headline achievements mask some serious challenges, including rising use of remands, the over-representation of children with special educational needs and children in care and an unacceptable growth in racial disparities. This requires decisive action.

The cohort of children now involved with the system have complex and overlapping needs and their offending masks underlying vulnerabilities, including bereavement, abuse and poor health. The cohort is also getting older and is more likely to have committed higher tariff crimes, many are also in contact with children’s social care. This requires new thinking. We believe there is merit in more closely aligning the youth justice and social care systems, particularly when responding to criminal exploitation.

In recent years, a host of related reviews and inquiries have put forward hundreds of recommendations for change and there have been several watershed moments, including a hard-hitting BBC documentary and the closure of two secure training colleges due to a rapid deterioration in conditions and performance.

A rethink is clearly required to realise stated ‘child first’ approaches. We need to work differently with children, families and communities, while agencies and government departments, need to work together differently too. There are difficulties for local authorities in pulling together post-custody resettlement packages, particularly where a care placement is required. Join up between the Ministry of Justice and the Departments for Education and Levelling Up is needed to help us address this issue.

The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 contains some helpful measures including a shift towards more community resolutions and a renewed focus on legal thresholds for remand, which has been a source of concern for some time. It cannot be right that almost half of the custody population is currently on remand and that two thirds of children who have been remanded do not go on to receive a custodial sentence from the courts. There is also a risk that the current drive to recruit thousands of new police officers inadvertently jeopardises progress as we saw nearly twenty years ago when well intentioned police objectives skewed arrest rates for children, we must guard against this.

This column first appeared in CYP Now -

Tags assigned to this article:

Related Articles