Cutting crime: the case for justice reinvestment - Justice Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 220 - 233)



  Q220  Chairman: Non-compliance with earlier penalties?

  John Coughlan: Quite possibly. We need to look at the criteria for sentencing as a way into managing the behaviour of sentencing practitioners. I do not want to accept responsibility for the funding for custody if I am just behaving as a post box and we are effectively shunting the huge pressures I know the YJB have faced back onto local government. I do not think that would be particularly effective. Finding some ways where we do go from purchasing into commissioning for a range of alternatives will be the way forward. We have to recognise as well that these budgets relate to quite large institutional provision. For us to effect a change in the use of this money you are talking about quite large decommissioning activity. We cannot recommission the services through the use of that money without decommissioning what the money is being spent on at the moment. That is fairly profound behaviour.

  Q221  Chairman: What has happened is as we have made transfers into non-custodial other people have arrived to fill in the custodial places.

  John Coughlan: Absolutely, and some partners in the health sector would make exactly the same argument about the acute sector in health.

  Q222  Alun Michael: We are right at the centre of the question of what the potential is for re-prioritising money but your focus has been rather on the re-prioritising of money from mainstream services to the customers of the Youth Offending Teams. What about the other way? What is the potential for re-prioritising the money currently spent on youth justice into more mainstream services albeit targeted?

  John Coughlan: There are lots of opportunities there as well. We are seeing the establishment of local children's trusts and I understand DCSF is thinking through further how children's trusts can evolve. The best local children's trusts are becoming effective commissioning arrangements to target resources where they are most needed and they are doing so through the use of the Common Assessment Framework. One of the dimensions to some of the future changes would be to see how we can more closely relate the ASSET framework to the Common Assessment Framework so there is better interplay between the two. Again we are looking at some twin tracking approaches which may not support more effective joint working at a local level. Those local trusts are able to work with the developing strategic needs analysis, and we have talked about data and what the evidence is of where the needs are greatest, and they are able to use work in the new resources—and children's centres are part of this picture at a very young age to support parents—to really target resources. We are doing that now at a local level between schools, Children's Services and other services. We are doing it also with youth justice services locally but it is not systemetised.

  Q223  Alun Michael: I am struggling with the idea that an institutional change will bring that about. I take your point about the children's trusts. Some of the mechanisms we have heard about in earlier evidence, like using the capacity for the local crime and disorder audit to inform the work by other partners in the local Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnership into preventing the development of youth crime, seems to argue for systems that would provide very much the input and the support for the work of the Youth Offending Team but the implication is that has not happened. Why would another institutional change change the behaviour of the people who spend the money?

  John Coughlan: I think the decisions that have been taken strategically recently about a better balance of responsibilities for what my YJB colleagues call the co-sponsorship of the youth justice agenda, alongside the changes that are happening about the establishment of children's trusts, those two developments will facilitate this improvement but we need some additional levers to make it happen more quickly and more systematically.

  Q224  Alun Michael: What should those levers be?

  John Coughlan: We do need some reviews of the sentencing policies not just around custody but around some of the more rigid approaches to new offenders coming into the system and having to be dealt with in the same way. For example, could we have suspensions apply to referral orders and save some of bureaucratic approach that happens at the moment for low level offenders who my line manager says will not come back into the system anyway. Those would be two examples: sentencing practices and approaches to referral orders.

  Mike Thomas: Picking up on that and the point Bob made earlier, if we adopted a "team around the child" approach and actually said do we really need to criminalise this young person, do we need to get them into the criminal justice system to access resources and we did the assessment and said what is needed then that would be a means of preventing the situation we have at the moment with more and more youngsters going into the criminal justice system. That would begin to unlock some of the resources at a local level and people would be much more aware of what the need was at a local level.

  Q225  Alun Michael: I can see the point of trying to avoid youngsters going into the custodial system for the disbenefits and problems that arise from that but why does it matter whether the service or support or intervention, if it is the right one, is provided inside or outside the youth justice system?

  Mike Thomas: Because once they are in the youth justice system they have a habit of sticking in the youth justice system and the youth court becomes a revolving door, which is one of the reasons why the custodial population is increasing. Youngsters are coming into the system at an earlier stage and are staying in the system and we should be able to divert them away and say what are the needs of this young person.

  Q226  Alun Michael: Could you explain your language there? If you are talking about the court, and once you are in the court system it is difficult to get out of it, that is one thing but the point of the Youth Offending Teams was to bring the resources of different departments that are working with those young people in order to get the right intervention for them at the right time.

  Mike Thomas: Absolutely, but as I have tried to explain we are working with more and more young people so the resources we have within the teams is spread thinner and thinner. I do think that once a young person gets into the formal court system the chances are they are going to come back into the court system because of the revolving door situation. They are in the court system, they are labelled as an offender and they live up to that label and will come back in. If we were able to do an assessment at a pre-court stage and say we accept that an offence has been committed but actually we can deal with the underlying problem without the need to criminalise the young person and that would mean the resources available within Youth Offending Teams could be spent more effectively on those whose behaviour is becoming more and more entrenched.

  Q227  Chairman: When you say criminalise, do you simply mean a young person has acquired a criminal record or the status of a criminal because it is a criminal justice system disposal or are you saying that the particular means into which he or she is brought, whether it is custody or some other form of sentencing, is increasing the likelihood of criminality? Which of the two are you saying?

  Mike Thomas: It is the latter. It is the fact that once they are in the system the chances are they will continue to be there because there is the criminalising nature of the system itself.

  Q228  Chairman: We know that about custody but is it the case with other forms of disposal?

  Mike Thomas: Yes, it is the case with other forms of disposal.

  Q229  Alun Michael: Are you saying it is the case with the Youth Offending Teams?

  Mike Thomas: No, I am saying the Youth Offending Teams have had to deal with more and more young people so therefore the resources have been spread and because somebody becomes labelled as an offender they are seen at a local level as the problem which the Youth Offending Team is expected to resolve. In reality we need to pull in the support from the partner agencies that are part of the Youth Offending Team. It is wider than just saying we are going to second a health worker into the Youth Offending Team or we are going to provide a mental health specialist probation officer or whatever.

  Q230  Mrs James: When you talk to young offenders, and I worked in the service, they are very afraid of going back to where they have originally come from. In many cases they tell you they go back to the same street corner, to the same gang, to the same people who behave in the same way they behaved prior to sentencing. That must be a huge challenge for the Youth Offending Teams because you cannot isolate them from all those external factors and influences.

  Mike Thomas: Absolutely and it is at the crux of the whole issue. If you prevent youngsters going into custody you can move some of the resources. You can put those resources into the community and you deal with a whole load of issues that are there within the community, whether it is to do with housing, with the social condition or whatever. It is not just about putting the resources into the Youth Offending Team but actually putting the resources into the community and involving the community in the process itself. One of the interesting things since referral orders were introduced is that the numbers of volunteers working with the Youth Offending Teams has increased so the community has a greater understanding of how the Youth Offending Teams work and also that the offender, at the end of the day, could be somebody living next door to the volunteers.

  Bob Reitemeier: To follow up on a point made about incentives, I do think there is a lot more that can be done about incentives. There is both the incentives of how do you look at the pricing mechanism so that local authorities may be incentivised to look more at prevention. It is not that the will is not there but there are mechanisms that can be looked at. There is also looking at the Youth Offending Teams, which is what you are asking about now, and our staff on the ground do indicate that when a young person goes into the YOT then other services take a breathe and step back because that is sorted, or at least it is not their issue any more. That is a generalisation that others can argue with but that is what the staff are telling us on the ground. The example that the Youth Justice Board gave in the previous evidence, saying that everyone points to the importance of resettlement and if would could get resettlement right it would make a big difference to re-offending, if you just think about resettlement in the context that the only reason it is called resettlement is because they are coming from custody, if you got the custody out of it and applied the principles of resettlement you are answering the question.

  Q231  Alun Michael: Would the new Youth Justice Unit have an impact on that closer integration and the question of how resources are deployed?

  Bob Reitemeier: I am sorry for going back to what you asked the Youth Justice Board but you asked about policy and practice. When you look at policy, clearly the two accountable departments have to think policy so both the Ministry of Justice and the Department of Children, Schools and Families. I also think the Youth Justice Board does and should continue to think about policy. I see the interaction between the YJB and the departments as being critical on the policy front. On the practice front that is where you need to connect directly to the YOTs, to the directors of Children's Services and all the services on the ground. I would promote an active policy engagement between the YJB and the departments directly.

  John Coughlan: Can I just reinforce that? The establishment of the joint unit and the dual key or the MOG arrangements have been a very positive step forward. Certainly from the ADCS perspective we made it clear from the off we were not asking that YJB should come under the auspices directly of the new DCSF. We very much recognise the need for a balanced relationship into the justice system. We felt that balance was not right in the old arrangements and I think having the new unit reporting to both departments but also sitting within DCSF where there is such energy and drive towards better integrated working at the moment is going to be extremely positive. It will take time to see how that moves forward and we will see from the forthcoming plan. Can I make one more point about incentives just to clarify some of these arrangements? The Every Child Matters agenda I would argue anyway is not a visionary agenda necessarily, although I hope it is, but is an agenda for efficiency along the lines of the discussions you have been having today about youth justice policy. It is about trying to re-engineer resources and services further upstream so they can stop children and young people falling into greater levels of need. Off the top of my head, the special educational needs, for children in care, for child protection services, for children with disabilities, exactly the same argument applies to those services as the argument we have been having about trying to prevent young people ending up in custody. It is about trying to unlock resources at more intensive expensive ends of the service in the system for children, so for children in care getting them out of the more intensive systems and supporting them back at home, for SEN keeping them within mainstream schools and not getting them into special education and similarly for those other areas of service. There are profound obstacles to making that work around safeguarding, around addressing the needs of parents and the wishes of parents and addressing the way the system works at the moment. It is turning tankers around which I know is a cliché. Finding the incentives that will actually work will take time as well.

  Q232  Alun Michael: Mr Reitemeier made the comment about the distinction between policy and practice at the more local level. You seem to be suggesting that the more intractable issues are the practice and the identification of resources at the local level. Do you think that the situation of Youth Offending Teams is going to be strengthened or weakened by the new arrangements, for instance the children's trusts and things like that, or is it all going to become rather more diffused?

  Mike Thomas: I would hope it will improve a situation that we have at the moment. My view would be that in perhaps two or three years' time Youth Offending Teams will be concentrating on what I would consider to be their core business which is about preventing re-offending, and through the partnerships of the emerging children's trusts the prevention element we work with those youngsters on the cusp of offending, those dipping their toes in the criminal justice system, could be dealt with outside of the Youth Offending Teams. It has always been strange to me that we talk about Youth Offending Teams as youths who are offending but a large chunk of the work we do is prevention in the first place. Let us concentrate on the core business. As the children's trusts emerge and through partnerships we can work with the trusts to prevent those youngsters coming into the system but also, as I said earlier, in terms of preventing access to a whole range of statutory services of which the criminal justice system is but one.

  Bob Reitemeier: I would argue that it will improve. We are still talking theory in the sense that it is early days. There is a phasing point to be made. All the benefits of having the YOTs in place these last several years, where they have had a specialist concentrated effort working with this group of children, if we do not have some sort of phasing we will lose that expertise that has been gained. If we go too quickly into a more devolved or generic approach, that would be the risk. The direction of travel is right, that Children's Services has the holistic picture. Youth Justice is an element of that but it is not the whole. I would argue, following what John said earlier about when Every Child Matters came out young offenders were not as included as some other children, we would always add that the refugee population is still in that category. I know that is not the subject of this Committee but we still have some work to do on that.

  Q233  Chairman: Can you throw any light on any discussions you might have been drawn into on the Youth Crime Action Plan and whether it is likely to be a vehicle for doing any of the good things we have talked about?

  Bob Reitemeier: We certainly hope so. We are waiting for the plan to come but the points that have been made in the introduction of developing the plan which, when it first came out, was looking both at youth crime in its title but also resettlement—it originally started off as a Green Paper but then was incorporated into the plan—you are looking at the whole facet of a different approach. I think we have to hope that it is as bold and progressive as we would expect. If it follows the principles of understanding the causes of the behaviour that leads to offending and working across the agencies to address the needs that will help the children and young people change their behaviour, then it is a step in the right direction.

  Mike Thomas: I would agree. Now is the absolute right time in terms of looking at the development of youth justice. We have had 10 years of Youth Offending Teams, 10 years since the 1998 Crime and Disorder Act, and we have an ideal opportunity now. We have the generic community sentence being introduced next year and we have the Youth Crime Action Plan. We are putting a lot of hope on the Youth Crime Action Plan as a vehicle to take us into the next phase of developing an appropriate criminal justice policy for children and young people.

  John Coughlan: I would echo those sentiments. I have been very encouraged by some of the conversations I have been party to about where the plan appears to be seeking to focus and about some of the consultation that has gone on. It seems to me to be an attempt to redress a balance about whether this is a system which is a joint strategy around the justice system alongside the child welfare system, and that has to be positive. I think we have to also be realistic about how easy it will be to effect a change in the context of some very complex structural mechanisms between the judiciary, local authorities and some government departments and we have to work collectively on that.

  Chairman: Thank you very much indeed.

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