Original article by Neil Puffett, appeared in Children and Young People Now, 7 September 2010
In light of Ken Clarke's drive to imprison fewer people, Neil Puffett examines the attempts of two authorities to send fewer young people to prison.
The Leeds Youth Offending Service were facing a higher than average rate of incarceration of young people, and drawing frequent criticism from the Youth Justice Board. Determined to address the issue, they turned to a report, prepared in association with the Prison Reform Trust, which made a number of key recommendations.
The report, drawn up by former magistrate and Prison Reform Trust advisor Chris Stanley, recommended some simple yet effective changes in process which have seen a reduction in the rate of imprisonment in only 12 months.
Cooperating with the courts and judges, listening to what they had to say, was one of the simple solutions which drew rich information such as a decision to have the author of pre-sentence reports in court. Also implemented after collaboration with magistrates was the new pre-sentence report feedback system which offers more comprehensive reasons for judicial decisions.
The research in Leeds found that many young people ended up in custody because of breaches of community orders, so social workers were instructed to expend more time and effort into ensuring such orders were complied with.
Another measure related to the difficulties faced by many young people in court, difficulties related to simply expressing themselves; magistrates met with speech and language therapists and learned about the typical communications difficulties faced by such young people.
Also in Leeds, a NACRO-run initiative working with young people aged eight to 17 living in 'at risk' areas aims to prevent many young people coming into contact with the justice system in the first place.
Attempts to reduce imprisonment rates in Wakefield have also yielded a significant reduction and have also been linked to enhanced communication between magistrates and young offender teams.
Wakefield now operates a diversionary scheme which aims to turn people from the system when they come to the attention of the police, and a bail system of six weeks in which the young person must remain out of trouble has proven successful. After 18 months, the reoffending rate is an encouraging 7 per cent.