We need to protect and support our young offenders

Porsha Nunes-Brown, Network and Communications Officer

I attended the Policy-UK Forum’s conference, ‘Young People in the Justice System Delivering a Positive Outcome: Early Intervention, Education and Reducing Reoffending’ on 13 September 2016.  The day was packed with a range of guest speakers, with the main objective of learning how we can work together to improve outcomes for young offenders in the UK.

Chief Constable Olivia Pinkney, Lead Officer for Children and Young People, National Police Chiefs Council spoke about the role the police can play in avoiding unnecessary criminalisation of young people. She highlighted that a young person should be seen as a child first, and arresting a young person should always be the last resort. The police are wrestling with new offences, as we’re witnessing new behaviour including cyberbullying and sexting from our young people. She was clear that the police need to record all crime but they need be able to use their discretion when appropriate.

Anna Henry, Director of Child Rights, Office of the Children’s Commissioner, outlined the changes needed to improve outcomes for young people in the criminal justice system. The priority should be achieving a child centred justice system, not a cost centred justice system. For example, the voice of the child isn’t heard enough and a rights-based approach might improve the balance . Children in care are a group tending to have high and complex needs, calling for a focus on recovery over punishment-based approaches. The need for partnership working was emphasised and encouraged.

The secure care home model had been found effective and it was recommended we build on this model. This is aligned with the findings of the Narey Review, an independent review of children’s residential care in England. It was found that secure care has the capacity to keep children safe, and the evidence highlighted secure homes achieve both educational and health outcomes for children. Normandie Wragg, CEO of Nugent commented in our response to the Narey Review stated, “the review tackles many of the misconceptions relating to secure care. I strongly support Narey’s judgement that secure care has the capacity to keep children safe and the evidence highlights secure homes achieve both educational and health outcomes for children”.

It’s clear that we require the buy-in and support of prison officers to effect any change, as we know the reality is that some young people will end up in the criminal justice system. Ralph Valerio, National Vice Chairman, Prison Officers’ Association outlined 4 areas of focus:

  • Education and Employment
  • Health & Wellbeing
  • Service Users’ Participation
  • Prison Officers

He passionately spoke about the mental health challenges many offenders struggle with and the importance of fully integrating drug and alcohol programmes. Relating to employment, he called for major companies to form partnerships with prison governors throughout the country.

It was great to hear the amazing work being done by the Prisoners’ Education Trust presented by their CEO, Rod Clark. He spoke about the current 30-hour education target for young offenders which isn’t being met. However, the risk of having a weekly target is that it becomes the goal and thereby reduces focus on specific outcomes for young people. To help improve the educational outcomes of young offenders, he first asserted we need to understand the importance of relationships for children who have experienced abuse, injury and family breakdown. Secondly, there is a need to establish a learning journey that all parties are committed to. Agencies should also be working together to expand the provision of distance learning.

Overall, it was a very insightful day. I left feeling very enthused with the number and range of individuals and organisations that possess the skills and expertise and the willingness to achieve positive outcomes for young offenders.

The views expressed in this blog are not CSAN policy.