Influencing youth justice decisions

Overcoming barriers with the police

Learning from our Youth Justice Liaison and Diversion (YJLD) pilot sites has showed that engaging the police in this work can be the greatest challenge. The police are an essential partner in driving the success of liaison and diversion as they act as the main referral source to the scheme.

It is important for YJLD sites to engage their police partners with membership on the local steering group and by ensuring they are fully aware of the benefits of diverting young people into health interventions which can help to prevent future offending.

If any site is experiencing any particular issues with overcoming barriers with the police and would like further advice or support please contact the team.

Our experience has shown that challenges fall into a number of categories, which are explained below.

Perceived conflict between diversion and sanctioned detections

Some YJLD sites have had difficulties in obtaining referrals from the police as there is an assumption that diversion can be at odds with the police performance culture and the target to detect crime. For example, if a young person is diverted into educational support instead of receiving a reprimand or warning, the original offence for which they were arrested is filed as undetected as opposed to a sanctioned detection for a reprimand.

Some YJLD schemes face significant barriers in obtaining referrals as there has been a lack of understanding in some police forces of the longer term benefits of reducing reoffending and consequently reducing overall crime rates or other anti-social behaviour.

However, more progressive forces have recognised that diversion linked to health needs and addressing vulnerabilities is a longer term programme designed to help reduce reoffending and other anti-social behaviour. Many forces not only use diversion but rely on a whole range of other ‘positive outcomes’ to finalise a crime such as restorative justice and community resolutions. These are also being recognised within the police performance culture as a ‘positive outcome’ alongside sanctioned detections.

The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) are currently working with the Home Office, to introduce a formal recognition process for these ‘positive outcomes’ or ‘resolutions’ as they are known.


Obtaining appropriate access to the police custody suite

Sites that have sought to place YJLD staff within a police custody suite have found that they are presented with two main challenges:

  • Providing appropriate levels of cover, as these environments are 24/7 operations 365 days of the year.
  • The numbers of young people requiring their service did not always mean the YJLD worker was gainfully employed.

Sites have overcome these challenges by either providing an ‘on call’ service where they attend when called by the custody officer, by developing arrangements with adult liaison and diversion schemes or Drug intervention teams who are trained up to filter for appropriate YJLD referrals or by doubling up services such as the youth offending team (YOT) Appropriate Adult scheme who also conduct health screenings . Where there is a need for follow up, workers and custody staff make use of police bail to allow a health screen to take place


Competing with demands placed on police staff

The primary role for the police, whilst the young person is in police custody is one of investigation, whilst the YJLD worker’s will be initial health assessment. It is that health assessment that has the potential to delay the investigation and invoke reasonable adjustments being made.

All good police custody suites will conduct a basic 'risk assessment' of a detained person entering the complex which will look at immediate health needs, injuries, substance misuse, medication and risk of self harm. All these areas determine what treatment a person needs whilst in police detention. However, beyond the most obvious mental health illnesses being referred to the force medical officer, there is no routine screening by the police for mental health or learning disabilities and many go undetected. This will particularly be the case for hidden disabilities and for one of the most common childhood mental health problem which is conduct disorder.


Engaging with the right police staff in the right way

Each police custody suite will be managed by a Police Inspector and it is vital that this key person is engaged with YJLD work from the outset and ideally should also be the police representative on the schemes steering group or other governing body.

Police staff tend to have a very high turnover, and many of our YJLD pilot sites found that referrals could be heavily impacted if individual champions of the scheme have moved on. They found that it was crucial to ensure that relationships are built on agreed protocols and strong governance frameworks, so that operational practice becomes embedded and sustainable.

Sites also found that a ‘sandwich approach’ worked best. Obtaining support at senior level was essential for influencing the strategic direction, but it only translated into practice when YJLD workers spent time raising awareness about the scheme at an operational level.

This diagram sets out the police command structure

New or prospective diversion sites will gain valuable practical advice from YJLD pathfinder sites already operating within their police force area. Below is a link to the pathfinder sites, detailing which police force they operate in and providing some useful contact details.

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