So far it would appear to be extremely successful, over 600 youths who have committed offences have avoided receiving a charge by the police, with less than 50 of them going on to re-offend, in the process saving the taxpayer an estimated £3.5 million since its inception in July 2009. The system has proven to be so successful that the British Home Office is currently examining the potential and viability of rolling it out across the country.
Youths caught committing offences such as minor assault or shoplifting are not given a criminal record in an attempt to reduce the lasting negative harm associated with labelling youths, whereby they proceed to live up to the image projected by such stigmatisation.
The programme is a direct response to the recognition that for the vast majority of cases heavy punishment and prison simply do not work for young people, in regards, reducing offending, a view shared by Hull’s Chief Neighbourhood Police Officer.
Following an assessment by police and youth workers an individual programme or package is created for each youth that has been arrested. These involve youth services focusing on working with the child and their family, addressing needs and dealing with problems such as drug addiction and making referrals to youth clubs and other organisations. The goal of this is to prevent these problems leading to more serious and persistent offending in the future.
Before the system was put in place children would have received warnings (which would stay on their record for five years or more) or charged to appear in court. These could seriously impact on their future life prospects in terms of both education and employment, while having little impact on the level of offending in the community. Children who commit serious offences or have been involved persistently in criminal activity are still dealt with formally and receive court orders but where the police and youth workers believe that the offence is trivial enough or it is the child’s first time they question whether it makes sense or is in the public interest to give the child a criminal record.
This example illustrates the need to take a calm and reasoned approach when looking at ways of reforming youth justice practices. Policy makers must look beyond media declarations suggesting a population of youth offenders who are destroying society and use evidenced research to explore ways of addressing the underlying causes of why youths commit crime. As can be seen from the results in Hull the process of diversion and tackling the needs of youths is leading to improved outcomes for children and at the same time providing safer communities.