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«Ben Byrne and Kathryn Brooks, Surrey Youth Support Service Howard League What is Justice? Working Papers 19/2015 Post-YOT Youth Justice Ben Byrne and ...»

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Post-YOT Youth Justice

Ben Byrne and Kathryn Brooks, Surrey Youth Support Service

Howard League What is Justice? Working Papers 19/2015

Post-YOT Youth Justice

Ben Byrne and Kathryn Brooks, Surrey Youth Support Service


This paper looks at the potential to develop a post-Youth Offending Team (YOT)

strategy to deliver a child-centred response to children and young people who offend.

The authors draw upon practice experience from Surrey’s Youth Support Service,

placing this in the context of national developments in youth justice and integrated support for young people. The authors argue that the underpinning architecture of New Labour’s youth justice is now under threat and a range of competing possibilities exist for what will replace it. The paper provides detail of Surrey’s departure from orthodox YOT arrangements and describes the development of an informalised, restorative, and integrated response to supporting young people who have offended. Central to this approach is the organising theme of participation for vulnerable and socially excluded young people and the move away from reliance upon discrete services for ‘offenders’.

Underpinning these developments is a theoretical perspective which views authentic relationships as the dynamo for change. This is contrasted with prevailing YOT models, which rely heavily upon specialist referrals and expert ‘fixes’. The opportunities identified in this paper are heavily mediated by local factors, which have the potential to lead to significantly differentiated responses to youth offending between local authorities across England, with no guarantee that developments in all places will be positive for young people in contact with the youth justice system.

www.howardleague.org/what-is-justice/ 2 Introduction The paper starts by providing the historical backdrop to contemporary practice and policy development which has seen the youth offending team (YOT) take centre-stage in terms of the response to young people who offend. It then goes on to consider the elements that research and practice experience within the sector, allied to international standards, would suggest should be present within evidenced-based youth justice practice. The third section looks at Surrey’s experience of attempting to build a local youth justice system informed by these principles, and to move beyond the YOT model.

Finally it considers the potential for the youth justice system as a whole to move beyond New Labour’s ‘new youth justice’ (Goldson, 2000) to a more ‘child-centred’ (NAYJ, 2011; Case and Haines, 2014) approach to young people who offend.

The authors are current managers who have been youth justice practitioners. Having significantly contributed to the developments in Surrey which this paper describes it is recognised that the authors are not disinterested commentators. The Surrey example is used to describe an alternative approach to responding to young people who offend, it is not suggested that this is the definitive model, nor that the tensions of working within established criminal justice discourse and the legacy of the ‘new youth justice’ have been fully resolved.

1 Defending the children of the poor How best to treat, punish, reform or otherwise respond to children and young people who commit crime? The ambiguous position of young people in trouble is emblematically captured above the doors of the Old Bailey in the carved entreaty to ‘Defend the Children of the Poor & Punish the Wrongdoer’, but what to do when our wrongdoers are children and, as is very often the case, they are also the children of the poor? Which has primacy, the child’s needs (their welfare) or the child’s deeds (justice)?

The ‘special case’ of children in the justice system has been well-documented (Parsloe, 1978; Harris and Webb, 1987) leading to the development of the separate juvenile court in 1908, and practice over the last century which has variously emphasised either the welfare needs of the child, which in this conception are said to generate and sustain offending behaviour, or justice concerns, that the behaviour be proportionately punished (Pitts, 1988; Newburn,1995; Muncie 1999, Matthews and Young, 2003; Smith, 2006).

The current policy, legislative and practice context for youth justice can be considered to have been strongly shaped by the tumultuous period in the early and mid 1990’s which heralded developments variously described as the era of ‘popular punitivism’ (Garland, 2001), the ‘new punitiveness’ (Pratt et al., 2005) or the ‘punitive turn’ (Muncie, 2008).

–  –  –

In this period the murder of James Bulger in 1992 is often viewed as marking a critical turning point, which prompted the change in public policy towards children who offend.

There is, however, evidence of a hardening of opinion in respect of youth crime prior to this murder (Allen, 2002), amidst a more fundamental shift towards a neo-liberal form of governance which encouraged greater individual responsibility and was less tolerant of indiscipline on the part of the losers in what was becoming more overtly a ‘winner-loser’ society (Muncie, 2006 and 2008; Clarke, 2004). While the Bulger murder was therefore not solely responsible for the change in the perception of young people who offend, it did encapsulate the worst fears of a nation that was being encouraged to view sections of the youth population as feral and beyond control (Roberts et al., 2003). Labour made capital from the Conservative government’s failure to control recalcitrant youths, playing on the ‘respectable fears’ of middle England (Pitts, 2005) promising to be better, harder and faster in bringing young people who offend to book (Smith, 2003; Home Office, 1997). Their cause was encouraged by the seminal Audit Commission report Misspent Youth (1996) which castigated the inefficiency of the various arrangements that existed around the country for responding to young people who offend.

Once elected, Labour brought in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 to establish a new youth justice system, replete with multi-agency teams in every local authority dedicated to working with ‘young offenders’ and with central oversight for both community and custodial regimes provided by the Youth Justice Board (YJB). While youth justice services continued to be delivered through local structures these were significantly shaped by national policy and practice direction, the conditions of central government grants, and enhanced National Standards and inspection regimes (YJB, 2000; Pitts, 2001b; Muncie, 2002). As a result an increasingly homogenous set of arrangements for managing young people who had offended, and increasingly those identified as at risk of offending (Goldson, 2000) were established throughout the early and middle years of the Labour administration.

The YOT model developed a discrete set of services for young people who had offended or who were at risk of offending. While YOTs had the ambition to be connected to other specialist and mainstream services for vulnerable young people their structural separation marked their clientele apart from their peers (Gray, 2005a).

Critically it was young people’s deeds, their status as ‘offenders’, which enabled entry to the YOT club and its attendant services, and the object of the system was primarily the correction of faulty individuals, rather than amelioration of the social conditions that generate and sustain offending (Smith, 2014a; Gray, 2007). In this process of ‘aetiological narrowing’ (Pitts, 2001b) it was increasingly children and young people who had experienced the most damaging environments who were seen as solely responsible for their responses to these environments and professionals were www.howardleague.org/what-is-justice/ 4 encouraged to target thinking and behaviour rather than the social context (Pitts, 2007;

Allen, 2007; Case and Haines, 2014).

The enhanced structures of New Labour’s ‘new youth justice’ supported a thrust for earlier intervention targeted at those considered most at risk of offending and the need to ‘re-moralise’ (Muncie, 2002) children in trouble and their parents. In practice this often meant conflating acts of immaturity, indiscretion, and everyday incivility when committed by children and young people from deprived backgrounds to predict the imminent onset of an offending career (Matthews and Young, 2003). As a result of this net-widening (Cohen, 1985; Thorpe et al., 1980) more and more children were identified as requiring youth crime prevention and drawn into a system which ever more efficiently propelled them towards court and for many ultimately custody (NAYJ, 2011).

Discretion for police to divert young people from the formal system was curtailed, the courts’ powers to use custodial remands were extended and custodial sentences were made more readily available to a younger age group (NACRO, 2003). Added to this volatile brew was the Home Office’s targets for police services to improve the rate at which offences were brought to justice (OBTJ), leading to the increased criminalisation of young people who in this scenario were seen as ‘low hanging fruit’ (Morgan and Newburn, 2007). In the context of increased regulation and central prescription youth justice practice became more process orientated (Bateman, 2005) removing professional judgement to the extent that Pitts described it as the ‘zombification of youth justice’ (Pitts, 2001a).

By the third term of Labour administration, however, the start of the retreat from what has been described as ‘top down corporate correctionalism’ (Pitts, 2005) can be perceived. Youth justice outcomes (custody and criminalisation) were starkly at odds with the government’s Every Child Matters Outcomes (Home Office, 2003) and the increasing acceptance that young people in trouble often had significant safeguarding needs. Further, as the economic clouds darkened, concern for cost effective management of young people who offend also encouraged a move away from unwarranted and ineffective intervention and the expense incurred by high levels of incarceration (Muncie, 2006; Solomon and Garside, 2008).

Two highly significant policy shifts occurred in the final years of the Labour government.

The OBTJ targets were removed following the Flannagan review (Flanagan, 2008) while at the same time the government introduced targets for local authorities and partners to reduce first time entrants to the youth justice system (Public Service Agreement 14: HM Government, 2007). The impact of these changes has been profound, with first time entrants down by 75 per cent from 110,000 per year in 2006/07 to 27,000 in 2012/13.

Meanwhile after a decade when there were on average at any one time just below 3000

–  –  –

under-18s in custody, the average population fell to 1544 in 2012/13 (MoJ/YJB, 2014) and in December 2014 fell below 1000 (YJB, 2015a).

The changes which were underway by the end of the Labour administration have been further encouraged by the Coalition government’s interest in localism and reduced central prescription. Some aspects of regulation have been reduced through new National Standards for Youth Justice (YJB, 2013), reduced reporting requirements to the YJB, and a slimmed down and risk proportionate inspection regime by HMIP. The Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders (LASPO) Act 2012 and accompanying guidance (YJB, 2013) further promoted local responsibility for out of court disposal arrangements and gave greater discretion to divert from prosecution through removal of the ‘youth justice escalator’ (reprimand, final warning, prosecution).

As ever, a smattering of popular punitivism remains in the Coalition’s approach to youth justice, as evident in mandatory sentencing, reinventing and re-packaging of Labour’s anti-social behaviour legislation, and the development of secure colleges. The balance sheet as a whole, however, suggests a national context which gives greater freedom to develop informal and child-centred responses to young people in trouble and offers local partnerships greater autonomy in their youth justice arrangements (Smith, 2014b).

This of course must be set against a backdrop of public service cuts and the experience of an extended recession, which have the potential to create much greater social stress and social harms and where diversion can be characterised as abandonment when supportive welfare service are absent (Yates, 2012 Smith, 2014b). It is also recognised that devolving responsibility at a time of austerity gives central government the opportunity to devolve blame for failures at a local level.

The final section of this paper considers the potentially divergent paths which local youth justice arrangements may take. First, it looks at what lessons can be taken from youth justice practice and research to use in the space which has been created/vacated by government in order to best respond to children in trouble.

2 What Really Works?

Children’s rights, childhood development and international standards A reasonable starting point for a discussion on the key principles that should be at the heart of our response to children who offend are the internationally accepted standards for youth justice, set out in the United Nations Riyadh Guidelines (1990) and Beijing Rules (1985) and underpinned by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989). These assert and advocate the use of discretion and diversion wherever possible and at all stages of dealing with young people accused of offences. They call for consideration that ‘youthful behaviour … that does not conform to overall social norms and values is often part of the … growth process and tends to disappear spontaneously … with the transition to adulthood’ and that ‘in the predominant opinion of experts, labelling a young person as ‘delinquent’ or even ‘pre-delinquent’ often www.howardleague.org/what-is-justice/ 6 contributes to the development of a consistent pattern of undesirable behaviour by young persons’ (Riyadh 1990).

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