Dan Forman, Senior Associate
Friday 17 January 2020
Crest welcomed a brilliant range of guests to our headquarters earlier this week for a roundtable discussion on our recent report into youth justice.
Crest’s work, led by Manon Roberts, Harvey Redgrave and Gemma Buckland, looked at why there had been dramatic falls in the number of first-time entrants to the youth justice system and number of children in custody. It found that it had been driven, partly by a successful expansion of preventative and diversionary measures undertaken by Youth Offending Teams (YOTs), and partly because of a general contraction in police activity. However it also found that the government had largely failed to ‘cash the gains’ of this success story, with outcomes for those still in the system now significantly worse, despite the much smaller cohort being worked with.
We were delighted that Helen Pidd, Northern Editor of the Guardian newspaper, attended as a guest speaker to talk about her groundbreaking 'Children in the Dock' series of reports from inside the ‘under-reported’ world of the youth courts. Responses and contributions were also offered by representatives from the Children’s Commissioner’s Office, the Magistrates’ Association and Bar Council, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government’s Troubled Families programme, the Centre for Justice Innovation and other experts with experience on the Youth Justice Board and YOTs. The event was chaired by Professor Nick Hardwick, a former Chief Inspector of Prisons and Chair of the Parole Board.
Discussion focused on a range of topics, including the high number of children in care or with a history of care in the system; common backgrounds to cases involving drugs and violence; problems with the youth estate, especially larger young offenders’ institutes (YOIs); the potentially large number of ‘missing’, ‘vulnerable’ or ‘invisible’ children that are at risk of being drawn into the system but not currently known to it; and the need to have more investment in and better preventative and diversionary services (which, it was pointed out, are not the same thing, with prevention often best done by more mainstream services outside of the criminal justice system).
There was support for the principle of extending the YOT model up to the age of 25, although with some discussion around whether it is YOTs themselves that are needed or the multi-agency and diversionary approach that is the key to success. But in an area which still suffers from gaps in data, one thing that is clear is that keeping people out of the criminal justice system is beneficial wherever possible.
Where it is not possible to avoid custodial sentences, such as in incidents of serious violence, Crest’s recommendation that ministers should reconfigure the youth custodial estate - away from large YOIs, in favour of smaller more localised establishments -was broadly backed. Participants pointed out that the extra costs of housing young offenders in smaller, secure children’s homes where more personal and rehabilitative support is available, is more than accounted for by the fact there are now fewer children in the system.
The suggestion that metro-mayors and police and crime commissioners be given more responsibility also sparked debate. Concern that it could lead to a patchwork in standards and outsourcing to unregulated settings was countered by an acknowledgment that there is a need for innovation, with current provision too often failing.
Looking ahead, attendees considered the opportunity of the forthcoming royal commission on the justice system as a chance to press for reforms. There was confidence that the consensus around developing a public health approach to violence could have a positive impact on youth offending policy, with prevention, diversion and rehabilitation through a multi-agency approach likely to be central to any new strategy in the area. However there was also concern that re-investment in policing with a focus on increasing the charge rate would backfire in the youth justice space without equivalent investment in other services.
Please get in touch if you are interested in finding out more about this strand of Crest's work.