Memorandum from Khulisa UK and AOPM (LOCO 022)

About the Association of Panel Members:

AOPM is a membership organisation for the 5400 community volunteers supporting Youth Offending Teams (YOTs) in England & Wales. We operate through the goodwill of Board members, without central or local government funding. The purpose of the Association is to advance the performance of Panel Members in performing their civic duties with young people involved in the criminal justice system. We promote Good Practice in delivering restorative justice to communities afflicted by youth crime, also the rights of children in the criminal justice system, particularly in respect of access to education provisions for those with restricted engagement in the national curriculum.

About Khulisa UK:

Khulisa UK is an independent charity arm of the successful Khulisa Crime Prevention Initiative in South Africa. Khulisa has a 14 year track record of being at the forefront of restorative justice, violence-reduction, community development and social enterprise projects in South Africa, addressing all aspects of the crime cycle and community regeneration.

After launching a number of pilots in early 2009, that October Khulisa was invited to trial Silence the Violence under the Home Office’s Tackling Knives Action Programme (TKAP). Khulisa continues to work with a number of prisons, YOIs, schools and communities.

1. Executive Summary

Low level crime and the traditional justice system are perceived by the community both as disempowering and intimidating - involving loss of choice, control and decision-making powers. If ordinary people have a ‘voice’ or play a key role in the justice process, this increases their ownership of problems and engagement in the community solutions

The potential for massive Third and Voluntary Sector contribution to a fully Restorative Youth Justice system (e.g. through Victim Support, Community Engagement and Mentoring ) is currently untapped, whilst positive activities underpinning reparative projects that add value to local communities and contribute to a young person’s personal development, remain undeveloped.

Youth Offender Panels administrating Referral Orders from the court offer the lowest reoffending rate of all juvenile court imposed sentences [1] , whilst in 2007/8 youth courts were rated the lowest of all CJS groups , with only16% [2] of the public saying they do an excellent or good job .

2. Recommendations

F urther to recommendations in July 2009 by the APPG on L ocal G overnment in Primary Justice: an inquiry into justice in communities , AOPM and Khulisa UK support Primary Justice and the development of true, community-led Restorative Justice processes that will be a requisite for successful additional expansion of Community Justice Panels into the Youth Justice system , funded from the local ‘safety and justice’ budget. We recommend:

· Community Justice Panels should be tr ansfer red from YOTs to CPS, as with Scotland’s Children’s Tribunals , in order to allow fu rther development of restorative justice in communities afflicted by ASB.

· Pre-Court Community Justice Panels delivering Youth Conditional Cautions and other diversionary measures , supported by a professional Conference Administrator as optional, non-formal disposal s to encourage police to pre-empt future criminal behavior.

· Review of breached Co mmunity Orders by young people, delegated to Community Justice Panels under CJA 2003 S178 to identify factors leading to the breach and additional support measures. This avoids the current default of custodial sentenc es as the remedy for breaches arising from offences that did not warrant custody in the first instance e . g . ASBOs and provides an exit route from the criminal justice system .

· The danger of localization is that best practice and the exploitation of innovation is only delivered at a local level. The role of the volunteer-led AOPM as a national community of Youth Justice Volunteers provides a forum for establishing robust Third Sector partnerships and identifying and promoting best practice. We therefore recommend that AOPM should be centrally funded to deliver increasingly effective localized services.

3. Background

Up and down the country many people are considering the implications of the Big Society – what it would look like, and what it means for the place in which they live. Citizens increasingly want to know how to work together with institutions, take ownership and make real their own vision of their own community.

At the same time, some of the agencies that affect our lives and families have taken the first steps towards using the new ideas and thinking that lie at the heart of Restorative Justice. In schools and within police forces, people have taken important steps and begun to use the tools and ideas of Restorative Justice to meet some of the problems that bother people most: anti-social behaviour, criminal activity, disputes between neighbours, vandalism and bullying on the street and in schools. They are using different ways of dealing with conflict to contribute towards making their neighbourhoods safer and more enjoyable places in which to live, work and learn.

The April 2009 the consultation Engaging Communities in Criminal Justice addressed the role of volunteer magistrates in community justice, but omitted mention of the contribution by Youth Offending Panel Members to the issue of youth crime.

In July 2009 the APPG on L ocal G overnment report Primary Justice: an inquiry i nt o justice in communities included the following recommend ations

· Creation of a new system of primary justice: shifting control of prisons and key supporting services away from Whitehall to a local level

· Creation of a local ‘safety and justice’ budget to fund, amongst other things: local prisons and neighbourhood policing. This funding pot would be used to commission local services, either from existing providers or by setting up new local services.  A local budget could include approximately 35% of the prison budget, the administration budget for magistrates’ courts, local policing and probation. 

· Designing a system underpinned by the principle that offenders should be helped to get work and up-skill, with business and voluntary sector organisations, taking a much greater role in helping to open up employment opportunities for ex-offenders.

· Using aspects of social networking to give victims, witnesses and members of the public opportunities to access information and express opinion online about specific cases in the public domain.

4. The extent to which decentralisation leads to more effective public service delivery

A major problem with the present YJ system is the inability to deal with the whole person and see an offence as an action that does not define the individual. The YJ system cannot deal with the whole person, but young people who are involved in crime should have equal access to services in terms of education, addiction treatment, health or housing - even if they need special help to make sure this happens. Local Authorities are where this should happen.

One of the main objectives of a Youth Restorative Justice Service is to create and enhance access to justice for children in communities who experience economic, cultural, language and educational barriers. Youth Restorative Justice also addresses the cyclical nature of crime, repeat offending and victimisation. By placing due importance to the needs of victims, the service has the potential to become the primary vehicle for access to justice for both victims and offenders in a much more holistic way, and to diminish the prevailing fear and anxiety associated with engagement with the formal criminal justice system. The process also embeds accountability structures within participants’ communities, allowing ownership by those who are directly affected by crime and/or commit it.

Neighbourhood crimes often occur amongst people who are acquainted with each other, where parties are family members or neighbours ; these scenarios are eminently suitable for a carefully managed restorative justice process where participants are given greater opportunities to explain their side of the story, seek resolution and appropriate restitution. ASB and low level crime are generally impulsive and may be attributed to the frustration and disillusionment experienced by those experiencing economic hardship, whilst common assault and domestic violence often intersect.

The risk of victimisation is heightened in situations of economic dependency, especially in domestic violence cases; moreover, idleness and the lack of an income (especially among girls and women) put individuals at greater risk of victimization, as well as involvement in criminality. Where NEETS and children excluded from school feature prominently as both offenders and victims, this points to the need for intelligent community intervention programs that directly address links between c hild p overty and youth crime , in order to cater for development of personal and social skills in young people and promote their positive engagement with alternative education provisions , to prevent escalation into worsening criminality and gang culture.

Panel Members remove the locus of community volunteering in the youth justice system from magistrates delivering punitive sentences, to ordinary people working alongside the criminal justice system to deliver restorative solutions which rehabilitate and reintegrate young people back into their communities. Panels are conducted at premises outside the youth court, because the physical space is very significant and has a direct impact on both participants’ willingness (victim and offender) to engage in the process, as well as the success or failure of that process.

Panel Members challenge young people’s criminal behaviour by ensuring that victims become the jury and amends are made. Additionally, by agreeing a contract to engage with support services offered by the YOT/Local Authority, the contextual factors which led to the crime can be directly addressed.

The potential of Community Justice Panels and community-led restorative justice processes is enormous for changing the mindsets of young people involved in crime, in a setting where they can fit in and can speak for themselves in open dialogue with the Panel (instead of through legal and other professionals) and so come to realise how their offending affects the community. With the young person’s agreement, Panels will refer them onwards to programs that target the range of social problems faced within poor and deprived communities afflicted by ASB, including substance abuse, frustration, exclusion, lack of personal skills and anger.

Community Justice Panels and community-led restorative justice processes delivering Youth Conditional Cautions and Pre-court diversionary disposals will reduce the backlogs accruing to courts, allowing swift and speedy delivery of justice, which can be seen to be done by members of the affected community. Intelligent community service reparations may be linked to learning programs for the young people, selected by those living in the afflicted neighbourhoods, e.g. environmental health, heritage or conservation projects.

5. What are the limits of localism?

Whilst there has been national recognition that YOTs’ local structure has been more effective in many ways than the centralised structures for adults, the devolution of responsibility to Local Authorities and consequent complexities of funding YOTs - from 5 sources - has resulted in confused accountability and responsibility, duplication of effort, resistance to cross-boundary fertilization and, at worst, breakdowns in strategic partnerships for tackling youth crime.

This is most apparent in development of the newly created role of Community Panel Members where the Youth Justice Board plays no part in funding or enforcing statutory governance provisions, nor in enforcing compliance with the Victims Code to ensure the proper functioning of Panels, as defined in primary legislation in respect of first time offenders. The result has been that restorative youth justice is often optional. Some areas have even operated in contravention of legal requirements. Belatedly, after years of targeting the ‘low hanging fruit’ of youth crime, police-led restorative justice initiatives have been introduced in some areas, with the objective of reducing criminalization of this age group.

Despite providing a statutory volunteer function equal in status to Youth Court Magistrates, Appropriate Adults, Independent Custody Visitors and the Independent Monitoring Board, no central funding whatsoever is available for governance and infrastructure of Panel Members - unlike for the more privileged cousins. The result is highly variable quality of initial and in-service training, with a norm of inconsistent performance standards and constant re-inventions of the wheel. This under-funding and lack of consistency has created the Catch 22 situation of custodial sentencing for first time entrants based on sentencers’ lack of confidence in Panels, arising from the perception of young people’s crimes being ‘too serious’ for a Referral Order.

6. What, if any, arrangements for the oversight of local authority performance will be necessary to ensure effective local public service delivery?

Aside from lack of financial provision for governance and infrastructure for volunteers, statutory guidance on the organization and management of Panels allows for oversight of some aspects of YOTs’ performance in terms of service delivery. However this was considerably diminished in 2009, with revised provisions removing Panel Members from YOT Steering Groups - albeit that magistrates remain. This was unfortunate for the following reasons:

Neutrality: Panel Members are occasional visitors to the YOT and independent from the Local Authority. They have the freedom to ask questions where expectations are not met, and hence the potential to become critical friends by prompting the YOT partnership towards achieving better outcomes for young people, e.g. improved access to education provisions. The potential effectiveness of neutrality is severely compromised without places for Panel Members on YOT Steering Groups. Volunteers also struggle to obtain satisfactory responses and support from staff who lack the authority to challenge or develop entrenched practices, or who are torn between supporting / defending their charges . However , the law has always been clear that if dissatisfied with responses, Panel Members should refer their issues to the YOT Manager.

Accountability: Panel Members make transparent, reasoned and thorough decisions that are publicly accountable through signed, written agreements, which victims and young people understand as being fair and just. That is, Panels are accountable firstly to their community, then to the victims of crime and to the young person and latterly to the YOT. Some contract elements require the YOT to provide in-house learning resources, others simply require monitoring and support. Through the statutory review process, Panels have the power to hold YOT case supervisor s to account for their performance in supporting the young person and providing the necessary remedial activity. However, the complexities of securing access to education for an excluded pupil , for example, are such that accountability may be nominal only .

If oversight of LCJB, LSP and YOTs performance in relation to youth crime is to be effective in communities, it will be necessary to radically review provisio ns for ensuring accountability to central and local government a lso to the wider public through engaged volunteers , in a manner that protects the rights of volunteers to question or challenge practices where necessary . It is therefore essential that the third and voluntary sector s of the children’s workforce supporting youth crime agencies have direct line responsibility to the office of the C hildren’s Commissioner. This accountability would allow for a more robust engagement in the justice system by members of the community, and empower them with an ownership of the solutions to many of the crime and ASB related challenges they face.

[1] Hansard 23/6/09

[2] Public confidence in the Criminal Justice System: findings from the British Crime Survey 2002/03 to 2007/08


[2] More a bout the Association of Panel Members

[2] We aim to :

[2] Share Good Practice in the administration of Referral Orders

[2] Provide a voice for communities to influence the effectiveness and development of Youth Restorative Justice

[2] Disclaimer: The contents of this briefing do not necessarily reflect the views of all Panel Members


[2] October 2010