The proposed abolition of the Youth Justice Board - Justice Committee Contents

Written evidence from the Association of Panel Members


AOPM is a membership organisation for the 5,400 community volunteers supporting Youth Offending Teams (YOTs) in England & Wales. We operate through the goodwill of volunteer 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.

1.  Executive Summary

1.1  Community Panel Members were commissioned in the Crime & Disorder Act 1998 to perform statutory duties in respect of First Time Entrants (FTEs) receiving a Referral Order from the court. The Association of Panel Members (AOPM) was founded in 2006 as the driving force supporting volunteers to achieve a sense of national identity and shared purpose, by opening up the debate in search of standards and consistency in youth offending panels.

1.2  From AOPM's inception the Youth Justice Board (YJB) abdicated governance of youth offending panels via a national network for disseminating best practice and sharing volunteers' experience, on the basis that panels are the responsibility of Youth Offending Teams (YOTs) which are locally managed and accountable to the local authority. The result has been:

—  (a)  endemic failure to overcome scepticism amongst judges and magistrates that young offenders can be properly monitored and rehabilitated in the community; and

—  (b)  the burden of providing support to individual YOTs in respect of good practice falls unfairly to an unfunded organisation, driven by goodwill alone.

1.3  AOPM was pivotal in the development of National Occupational Standards for Restorative Justice and in making training materials from the Open University accessible to volunteers through YJILS (Youth Justice Interactive Learning Space).

Other outcomes:

—  Contributed to a significant fall in number of under-18s jailed in England and Wales.

—  Advocacy of the rights of children in the justice system, particularly in respect of education.

—  Successfully working in partnership with other third sector organisations.

—  Developing the narrative for community-led restorative justice.

—  Building relations with the YJB, civil servants and other agencies.

2.  Recommendations

This response to the Commons Select Committee proposes:

—  (a)  Central funding of AOPM to deliver a national training and development strategy to improve Youth Community Justice Panels performance overall, framed within clear outcomes / aims for new and existing volunteers to provide increasingly effective services.

—  (b)  Training and accreditation by a specialist provider, building on volunteers' skills and experiences gained from tens of thousands of hours spent with young people and their families, in delivering the most successful of all available court orders.[1] Accreditation will contribute to greater effectiveness by Panel Members in carrying out their civic duties and embed Community Restorative Justice across the country to high standards and as the default measure for tackling youth crime.

—  (c)  Training pack "Panel Matters" upgraded to deliver a service that reflects best restorative practice in Northern Ireland's Youth Justice Agency and draws from best practice in Scotland's Children's Panels.

3.  What impact, if any, have changes to national governance arrangements for youth justice had on the Youth Justice Board and youth offending teams?

3.1  There is enormous potential for a major expansion of Community Justice Panels and to improve their operation and performance now that the YJB is integrated into the Ministry of Justice, or if abolished altogether. The knock-on effect will be a sustainable reduction in custodial sentencing, due to the greater success achieved from Referral Orders over all other court sentences in tackling youth crime. Also, prior to the issue of Sentencing Guidelines in November 2009, discretionary sentencing for "cusp-of-custody" cases, enabled incarceration of young offenders for up to two years (compared with six months maximum for adults), who otherwise satisfied Referral Order criteria, resulting in the highest levels of juvenile incarceration in Europe.

3.2  Although Home Office Guidance 2002 established a structural requirement for community Panel Members to sit on YOT Steering Groups, which should have ensured adequate monitoring of custodial sentences for First Time Entrants (FTE) and reporting of the increasing success of referral orders to youth courts, the YJB failed to implement this requirement in National Standards. Additionally, the YJB failed to secure inspection by HM Inspectorate of YOTs' management of Panels and Referral Orders, the quality of resources for training Panel Members and monitoring of panels to enable feedback, resulting in inconsistencies by individual YOTs in delivery of training to volunteers, supervision and appraisal.

3.3  The 2006 Action Plan "Developing Restorative Justice" aimed to broaden, develop and extend RJ practice through the improved delivery of Referral Orders, including the use of effective RJ and improved training for Panel Members. The exercise yielded an updated "Panel Matters" training pack in April 2007 for "cascaded" training, albeit experience from 2002 had demonstrated that such training cannot be quality controlled, and is largely ineffective in equipping volunteers with the necessary skills and confidence to practice restorative panel meetings in the presence of victims, unless trained and supervised by experienced RJ practitioners.

3.4  The 2008 Referral Order Action Plan yielded no further progress whatever and distanced panels from the Investors in Volunteers Standard.[2] Moreover, although Referral Orders account for one third of all court orders and panels are the primary vehicle for disseminating restorative justice principles into communities, the YJB consistently excluded Panel Members' representation from discussions over the years.[3] In 2009 Baroness Neuberger reported:

"A lack of investment in volunteer management inevitably results in volunteers having a bad experience. During the course of my research I have come across many cases of volunteers who have had a negative experience, as a direct result of poor investment in their management. This is more common where a statutory volunteer role is new, for instance in the case of panel members on Youth Offending Teams. The agency is still adapting to these changes and a supportive culture is still being developed. The Youth Justice Board has worked on a number of initiatives to support best practice in managing volunteers. Nevertheless, Government should be taking this very seriously if they wish panel members to stay and play a key role."[4]

3.5  2011 has seen resurrected plans to cascade training to volunteers with the Restorative Justice Training Grant—repeating the very same process which has failed to deliver the specified objective and can only exacerbate already wide variations in practice across the country, since implementation of Restorative Justice may crucially be hampered by an individual YOT's lack of commitment, or the trainer's lack of understanding and support of the underlying ethic.

4.  How can reductions in the number of young people entering the criminal justice system and being sentenced to custody be maintained most effectively within existing levels of funding?

4.1  This can be achieved by a dual strategy of expanding the remit of panels to contribute to out-of court disposals and Anti-Social Behaviour;[5] also by switching to the highly effective system practiced in Northern Ireland whereby agreed panel contracts are presented for ratification by the court, in place of current discretionary referrals with custody as the default option. Introduction of practice standards and quality assurance through a national training and development strategy to improve Panel Members' performance overall, framed within clear outcomes/aims for both new and existing volunteers, will increase the effectiveness and reach of this most efficient system of administration of the law.

Panel Members Training—Present Status

4.2  Potential Panel Members are required to undertake seven days training, in line with the training document "Panel Matters" produced by the YJB. The package aims to standardise training across England and Wales, with YOT staff initially undertaking "Train the Trainer" events for onward cascading to volunteer applicants. Additionally all Panel Members should receive at least one day of additional or refresher training each year (in for example, working with sex offenders or offenders with serious mental health problems).

4.3  In 2010 the Ministry of Justice authorised the appointment of Panel Members for a three year period renewable after satisfactory review, with extensions beyond six years subject to maintaining training and competency standards.

4.4  Variations in training delivery has been considerable, with some YOTs providing the full seven days, others a shortened version for a variety of reasons. One issue is that some volunteers leave after undertaking the initial training without going on to practice as Panel Members, because there is little opportunity available elsewhere for familiarisation with the youth justice system by eg youth workers, justice professionals and students. Accordingly there is always a need for repeat-training of new volunteers, with some YOTs reducing training from seven days to eg two weekends. Whilst YOTs may be criticised for this approach, it can also be difficult for volunteers to attend seven full days training. Moreover, whilst some may need the prescribed level of training, others arrive with high levels of knowledge and experience eg social workers and youth workers.

4.5  Training guidance issued in April 2007 addressed the wide range of volunteers supporting YOTs, requiring three days Foundation Training and a further four days to become Panel Members—training in matters specific to sitting on and chairing Referral Order Panels. Training packs specific to both courses ensure delivery of standard materials, with clear learning outcomes. Effectively, three days Foundation Training equips volunteers for mentoring, supporting reparations, or as appropriate adults (with possible further additions), but seven days training are required to be a Panel Member.

4.6  There are clear resource issues, since YOTs are required to free up staff for seven days, who have the capability to deliver all-day group training sessions, plus one additional in-service day, on-going appraisal and supervision. There may also be pressure to train new volunteers quickly in order to form quorate panels for delivery of the statutory service (two volunteers plus one YOT worker) and to meet / key performance indicators: ie National Standards require the first panel meeting to be held within 20 working days of the court order.

4.7  After initial training, one approach has been for YOTs to consider that volunteers have gained sufficient knowledge in the process to manage panel meetings. Other volunteers may experience supplementary training through observation of a number of panels, followed by sitting as a third Panel Member before taking on a fuller role. There is also wide variation in continued learning and development, particularly in respect of restorative justice training. Some YOTs make no arrangements whatsoever; others hold regular group meetings with their Panel Members, using the process to establish training needs and making local arrangements to accommodate. Other YOTs operate direct supervision or individual appraisal systems, which identify additional training & development needs. All arrangements are highly variable, being influenced by available resources at local level, also the organisation and management of panels and Referral Orders within each YOT.

4.8  Wide variations in the level and quality of resources to support the delivery of panel contracts have been the result, with systemic entrenchment of gaps between leader and laggard YOTs performance, and reinforcement of variable custodial sentencing practices across the country, arising from a variations in sentencer confidence in community sentences, particularly where panels are less well-served.

5.  Skills Gaps Identified

In 2007-08 AOPM undertook the first national survey of volunteers' views since Referral Orders were introduced. Although invited to support the questionnaire, the YJB refused any form of assistance. Notwithstanding, the Association of YOT Managers (AYM) promoted a questionnaire which was devised by AOPM and collated by Middlesex University. With the majority of Panel Members disbarred from proper and sufficient training in restorative justice, and hence from effective participation in restorative conferencing for offenders and their victims, the results established that volunteers were discouraged by inconsistencies in practice, uncertainty regarding their role, and with the level of victim participation in panels.

5.1  Of 417 responses received, about half of the respondents had conducted at least 50 panels, with 30% more than 100 panels. 23% had conducted fewer than 20 panels.

Panel Members:

—  are not volunteers in other areas of the criminal justice system;

—  expressed the need for additional on-going training;

—  did not know of the existence of the training manual "Panel Matters";

—  those who did, did not rely on it much or only referred to it in certain circumstances for adaption accordingly;

—  were frustrated by the lack of participation by victims;

—  suggested greater focus on should be placed on victim involvement so that offenders fully appreciate the effects of their actions;

—  87.9% of respondents agreed that restorative justice should be the default measure for young offenders;

—  83% wanted guidance as to Good Practice and 50% wished to contribute to development of Good Practice;

—  53% wanted access to training from areas external to YOTs;

—  45% wanted access to online training; and

—  60% wanted development to be managed by an independent professional association.

6.  Principles for a national training and development strategy

Principle 1—Registration

As Registrar of members of the Association AOPM is a data holder of volunteers' contact information, manages membership and voting rights at AGM and monitors diversity in recruitment.

The Care Standards Act 2000 requires that volunteer team members are able to demonstrate who they are to external bodies, to enable their access to sites and work with vulnerable client groups, in order to fulfil service provider obligations to prevent unscrupulous people posing as representatives. The Registrar will seek to implement this requirement over- and-above CRB checks at local level.

AOPM will contribute to planning and delivery of training to Panel Members by agreement with YOTs.

Principle 2—Hierarchy of skill levels for RJ Interventions

Principle 3—Accredited Training delivered by a specialist provider with national reach

The Community Restorative Justice Academy has a proven track record in delivering individualised learning to community justice practitioners and volunteers to BTEC Level 4.

For volunteers without formal qualifications who wish to undertake further study, the Academy also offers a clear practice-based route to Post Graduate study (BTEC Level 7).

Principle 4—Recognition of volunteers' skills and experience

—  Enables trained and experienced volunteers to lead Restorative Justice meetings attended by victim (s), offenders, parents, professionals and others.

—  Meets volunteers' need for recognition and reward of skills and knowledge obtained whilst carrying out civic roles.

—  Develops community ownership of the process.

AOPM will also recognise those who complete in-service training, and commit a certain amount of voluntary hours with the Volunteer Achievement Award, designed to recognise dedication, encourage volunteers' civic activities, increase participation in the Association and encourage ownership of the outcomes for young offenders. The award will be a nationally acknowledged certificate that aims to recognise and accredit voluntary service in the youth justice system.

August 2011

1   Hansard 23/06/09
% % % % %
2004 2005 2006 2007 2008
Pre-Court 27 27 28 26 25
Discharge 54 57 55 54 52
Fine 60 59 55 60 57
Referral Order 42 42 42 40 38
Reparation Order 66 67 66 65 66
Attendance Centre 63 63 65 63 63
Supervision Order 71 73 74 73 71
Action Plan Order 64 61 62 66 64
Comm. Rehab Order 66 68 66 68 68
Comm. Punish Order 56 55 68 68 64
Curfew Order 76 71 72 68 69
Custody 76 73 77 75 74


2 Back

3   AOPM's response to 2009 Review of YJB Governance and Operating Arrangements Back

4   Baroness Neuberger 2009: Volunteering Across the Criminal Justice System Back

5   AOPM 2010: Expansion of Youth Community Justice Panels Back

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© Parliamentary copyright 2011
Prepared 25 November 2011