Influencing youth justice decisions

Influencing Youth Justice Practice

In the youth justice system there is a duty to make reasonable adjustments to make sure that a victim or witness of an offence can participate fully in interview or court proceedings and to allow them to give the best evidence possible. This can include using video interviews and screens in court. It can also include using trained intermediaries in court to support the young person’s understanding, although these intermediaries are only generally available under current legislation for victims at present.

If a speech and communication problem or learning disability is identified it would be advisable for the young person to be interviewed in the presence of a parent and an official appropriate adult (many parents will not have the knowledge or confidence to actively support the communication process during interview). Occasionally, intermediaries who are used with victims, have also been used for defendants in some areas but funding must usually be sought; furthermore, some YOTs may have a speech and language therapist who may be better able to facilitate communication. It is vital that the young person understands the court process and their part in it, rather than letting a system dictate the outcome. The police, along with other youth justice stakeholders, also have a duty under the Equality Act 2010 to ensure that reasonable adjustments are made to YJS process. Young people will also need to be aware of restrictions placed upon them and their future behaviour to ensure court orders are not breached, which can result in further court appearances. A speech therapist or an intermediary is able to facilitate this level of understanding.

Similarly, if a young person who has been exposed to domestic violence within the home commits an assault, their use of force may be excessive due to what they have witnessed at home. This information is vital in determining an appropriate sentence and support to prevent reoffending.

If a substance misuse problem is identified it would be clearly beneficial for a rehabilitation programme to be included as part of the sentencing outcome and in many cases be more advantageous than a custodial placement.

If youth custody is the final outcome then the information gained during the health assessment is vital to the secure estate who will determine where the young person will serve their time in custody. YJLD workers need to make sure that any health assessment is included as part of the paperwork accompanying the young person to the custodial unit.

YJLD pilot site case example:

Example of influence within secure estate

In Peterborough one young man was convicted of a serious offence and sentenced to a term in a Youth Offender’s Institute. Once in the secure unit, other similar offences came to light and the health assessment conducted as part of the YJLD scheme was used by the Young Offender Institution (YOI) to influence the rehabilitation program undertaken whilst within the secure estate. Health assessments can also influence where the young person is placed on occasions in the young person’s secure estate.

Police Statutory Duties

The police have a large number of statutory duties relating to the safeguarding of vulnerable and young people which include:

  • Working with partner agencies in the criminal justice system and dealing with youth offenders to divert children away from crime.

  • Working with partner agencies to educate children and young people on issues such as substance misuse and the prevention of crime.

Section 11 of the Children Act 2004 supports these responsibilities by giving the police a duty to make arrangements to ensure that they exercise their functions having regard to the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of children.

Each police force should establish senior management commitment to safeguarding and promoting children’s welfare by:

  • Having an identified Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) lead on children's issues in each force.
  • Having a strong commitment to the importance of these issues through clear policies and procedures with appropriate links to partner agencies.
  • Ensuring that suitable training and/or awareness are in place to promote the welfare of children.

Youth Justice Liaison and Diversion clearly sits within the statutory duties of the police and therefore should be a key partner in any diversion work.

Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) has set out clear responsibilities for the police when dealing with people in police custody. These expectations include all aspects of health, substance misuse and mental health provision and not just the requirement to be fit to be detained and interviewed. It is important to note that the duty to safeguard children does not just apply while a young person is detained in custody but also applies to ensuring their safety and well being once they are released from custody suites. The YJLD teams could be an important support to the police in fulfilling this duty to safeguard young people.

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