Influencing youth justice decisions

Opportunities for diversion

An increased awareness of liaison and diversion mean that there are greater opportunities to influence the youth justice system at all points of the process.

Not all young people are arrested for their offence, although they will be formally investigated. In these instances a young person would be interviewed by police officers in the community and they may never enter a police custody facility. This provides an opportunity for Youth Justice Liaison and Diversion (YJLD) workers to identify health needs and engage with the young people away from a custodial setting.

For those that are arrested and brought into police custody there are also many opportunities for YJLD to operate, and to influence youth justice decisions across the pathway.

By diverting the young person out of the youth justice system and offering rehabilitation to support them, the potential risk of re offending is reduced and the young person’s needs are met.

The following diagram shows the community and custody routes at point of offence.

Diversion via the Community Route

The number of young people being arrested and brought into police custody vary greatly across the country. It is recognised that the longer a young person is kept out of the youth justice system the less likely they are to reoffend (Petrosino, 2010). To that end many forces now adopt local arrangements to ensure that children and young people are not arrested but are either returned to their home address and dealt with in the community, with an appropriate adult, or are given an appointment to voluntarily attend at a police station. This means they do not enter a police custody suite and allows young people to be dealt with more efficiently. Some forces deal with as many as 90% of young people without them entering the police custody suite, whilst in others it is as little as 10%. Reducing the number of young people entering a police custody suite is a clear desire of the police and this should be considered when setting up referral pathways. The primary referral point may still be from the police, but not necessarily from the custody suite itself.

YJLD pilot site case example

In Halton and Warrington (Cheshire) most young people are dealt with outside of police custody. Investment has been made in training police officers to refer all young people they deal with prior to issuing a reprimand or final warning. The governance of this is shared between the Youth Offending Team (YOT) and the Police Chief Inspector.

For any of the Community Disposals available there needs to be an agreed referral process that allows the YJLD worker to be made aware of the offence and the proposed disposal. This should be by daily report into the Youth Offending Service (YOS). The report could be a simple email from police custody to the YOS, it may be produced by police staff within the YOS who have access to the police custody IT systems, or it could be an enhancement to a system such as adding a referral box to all Restorative Justice (RJ) disposal forms to ensure diversion and liaison form part of that RJ process.

This needs to be supported by raising awareness among police and local authority partners about the flags which should prompt referral to YJLD and ensuring they are clear about the benefits to encourage 'buy in' to the YJLD process (training and informal awareness raising).

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Diversion via the custody route (following arrest)

For those young people who are arrested and brought into police custody there are many opportunities for YJLD to operate. As with Community Disposals, there needs to be an agreed referral process that allows the YJLD worker to be made aware of the offence, which is supported by raising awareness among police and local authority partners.

Referrals from police custody can be made from a variety of sources including

Some YJLD sites have had difficulties in obtaining referrals from the police. If any site is experiencing this as a particular issue and would like further advice or support please contact the team.

In many cases it will not be possible to conduct anything other than an initial filter or screen with a young person whilst they are in police custody. All offences should be investigated as quickly as possible and for most cases this will mean an investigation is completed within 24 hours. There is provision to detain a person longer than 24 hours but only in serious cases and with the authority of a police superintendent or by attending court and applying for a warrant of further detention. Arranging and conducting a full health assessment within the initial 24 hours, when an investigation is also being conducted, is difficult especially when the young person is unavailable due to the criminal investigation requiring consultation with solicitors, interviews, searches and identification procedures. For these people, police bail should be used to allow for the interventions required before making a decision on a final disposal outcome.

YJLD schemes that have used police bail to secure full health screenings have reported a higher rate of engagement in the diversion process as the young person is aware that the diversion screening or assessment will have a bearing on their final disposal for the original offence and are therefore more willing to engage.

The importance of a multi agency approach to diversion and liaison can not be over emphasised. Key partners will include the police, health workers, Youth Offending Teams, Commissioners and local services and voluntary providers as well as courts and the secure estate. Each scheme should have a formal governance body or steering group which should also draw upon partners to contribute to the strategic aims of the scheme.

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Informing the court process

Once a full health screen has taken place and, if required, supportive interventions have been put in place, this information needs to be fed back to the police and Youth Offending Team to influence the final offence disposal.

Depending on the nature of the offence, and the previous offending history of the young person, it may be appropriate to instigate no further criminal action, a reprimand, a final warning or conditional caution.

If a charge is being considered, the health screen information and confirmation of engagement with supporting intervention should be made available to the police officer in the case. This should be in a written format ideally as a pro forma statement and the officer will then ensure this forms part of the evidential file. This will allow the Crown Prosecution Service to be fully informed of all the circumstances before making a charging decision.

Where offences do proceed to a referral order panel or to the youth court, the health screening and identified vulnerabilities must accompany the file of evidence. Health screening information should also be made available to referral order panels or to youth court magistrates to help with other decisions. For example, whether any additional psychiatric or psychological report might be needed, whether a referral for forensic assessment should be made or to advise about the need for any reasonable adjustments to be made in the court setting. The report should also be passed on to the Youth Offending Team, pre sentence report writer or to any psychiatrist/psychologist/health professional preparing additional reports for the court.

When it appears to the YJLD worker that a psychiatric or psychological report is required, the worker should seek to clarify and advise the court what type of report is required, what type of questions they might want to address in that report and they should help liaise with the psychiatrist/ psychologist involved in order to ensure that they have the information they require and to help minimise delays to the court system.It is very important that any psychiatric/psychological court report author takes into account and links with health and educational practitioners working in the young person’s home area so that any proposed recommendations and packages of care are both realistic and workable. Again, this will reduce expensive delays and will make sure that the young person and their family get the help they need as swiftly as possible.

Arrangements for securing psychiatric/ psychological court reports vary from area to area as do the pricing scales for these documents. In order to improve systems for ordering court reports, the local steering group should work with health commissioners, educational, police and court stakeholders and criminal justice agencies to clarify pathways, systems and payment arrangements for ordering local court reports to avoid unnecessary delays.

YJLD pilot site case example

In a pilot in the adult court system in the South West of England, significant improvements were made to local practice and reductions made to the timescales for the completion of reports through introducing the type of health court liaison system described above.

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