Better justice for young people who offend…

Photo courtesy of ©123rf/Nigel Spooner

Like everyone else, I hear lots of negative stuff about young offenders. And to be honest, it annoys the heck out of me!

Until last week, I worked in a secure children’s home. We looked after 17 children serving custodial sentences for offences. This means that as well as the challenging behaviour, we also saw the positives.

In the end, they’re just kids. And the vast majority are very likeable human beings.

As well as seeing positives in the children, it’s been great to see a few positive changes in the youth justice system recently. Hopefully this reflects a positive shift-however slight-in the way young people who offend are viewed.

So what’s changed?

  • The end of routine strip-searching of young people on admission to custody – Recently, the prisons minister, Jeremy Wright, announced that the government intends to end the routine strip-searching of young people on admission to Young Offender Institutions. Instead, a time-limited pilot will allow such searches only on a risk-assessed basis. This should radically cut the number of such searches being necessary; hopefully saving around 11,000 children the indignity of a practice Lord Carlile described as “demeaning and dehumanising.” Read more detail here.
  • The treatment of 17 year olds in Police custody, as children – A recent High Court Judgment ruled that 17 year olds taken into police custody should be treated as children. This effectively amends the current practice under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (1984) which considers them to be adults. As such, they do not have an automatic right to an appropriate adult being present to help them through the arrest and interview process, or to have their parents informed of their arrest. This will now change, bringing police custody procedure in line with other legal provision. This will effect 75,000 children a year! Read more detail here.
  • The decrease in child arrests – Police arrests of children aged 17 and under has fallen by more than a third since 2008. In that year over 315,000 thousand were arrested. In 2011 there were just under 207,000 arrests. This marks a major positive shift in the way the police and other agencies deal with teenagers. Through the pre-court and restorative work of youth offending teams and tenacious campaigning organisations like the Howard League for Penal Reform, the youth justice system has begun to divert more children away from the system, treating them more as children in need of help and support. Read more detail here.

Final thought…

Anecdotally, I have observed the children coming into custody in the last two years or so, to be a noticeably higher need group than previously. It may be that this reflects the fact that these are the most troubled group. As such, they exhaust what community provision can offer, necessitating a period in custody.

A key question for me is: will the government use the savings produced by fewer children entering the system, to provide resources for this more needy group? After all, these are the kids who repeatedly re-offend. Or will they divert the money elsewhere?

In order to protect the public more effectively and to reduce the likelihood of more re-offending in the future, it is this group that must be the target of our most concerted efforts. This will take cash to achieve…

What do you think?…

  • Do you agree that these really are improvements?
  • What other changes have you observed – for better or for worse?

Please let me know what your thoughts are… scroll down to leave a comment below or click here.

Related previous posts…

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© Jonny Matthew 2013

(Acknowledgement: This post draws heavily on the information published by the Howard League for Penal Reform and the blog of its CEO, Frances Crook – with thanks!)


Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Keith Newby

    Had a long hard think about this…Generally speaking I’m in the
    “Don’t ask me for the answers I’ve only got one, that a man leaves his
    darkness when he follows the Son” camp. That added to…”So ignoring God
    and doing your own thing”….”How’s that working out for your kids?”
    That said, and meant. Whilst I wouldn’t expect to resolve the issues
    without Godly intervention….we might be able to alleviate it. A long
    hard look at parental accountability might be a good start. But
    again…we’d be messing about in a culture that has no shame….and even
    if we could manage to develop that sense of shame….it would come
    unaccompanied by the balance of love redemption and reconciliation.
    Meaning that shameful parental behaviour could never be turned around,
    just punished. (“You can’t trust them “Spencers”…see how they
    neglected that youngest kid of theirs” etc). The old joke of “get out of
    that without moving” comes to mind.

    • Jonny Matthew

      Thanks for commenting Keith. I’m not sure I totally get what it is you’re saying, though you seem to be intimating that without God there is no hope for young offenders? I guess from your angle that might seem reasonable, as the situation can seem desperate and devoid of any real hope…

      However, if that is what you’re saying, from my angle it raises more questions than it answers. I wonder if you’d as readily invoke Christianity as a solution to someone with a broken leg, as an alternative to going to hospital? Or to an abuse victim instead of counselling? I know the parallels break down eventually, but the central point stands scrutiny, I reckon. Would anyone really say that nothing works except God?

      I’ve seen therapy work wonders in children’s lives. The right medication, too, can stabilise them such that other interventions make a real impact. EMDR can deal very efficiently with episodic trauma experiences, for example. Good old-fashioned loving-kindness is the greatest treatment of all – when it’s done intelligently, in the right context and for long enough.

      Believe me, there is a lot of shame – if fact, it’s one of the most pervasive and difficult problems to solve. It’s shame that often paralyses people and prevents progress. Particularly in children and young people. I could go on…

      Faith is a good thing. I have my own. But I’d no sooner recommend it as the solution to a young person with offending behaviour problems, than I’d recommend meditation to someone with a limb caught in farm machinery. It’ll help them eventually, perhaps, but there are more pressing issues at stake here and now. Cheers, J.

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