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The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice commissioned a review of the Youth Justice System in England and Wales on September the 11th https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/youth-justice and published the terms of reference on September 17th https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/youth-justice-review-terms-of-reference
The review is timely and it is important to state that looking at more efficient and cost-effective ways of working is certainly sensible, especially in these difficult economic times. Indeed I hope that the review is meaningful and innovative.
However the review excludes the minimum age of criminal responsibility, courts and sentencing leading to critics questioning whether it is a review at all. Some have argued it is a prelude to another Transforming Rehabilitation style service marketisation exercise. Such accusations have not been refuted.
It was suspected that the youth justice ‘stocktake’ was ‘about privatisation’ but interestingly this was refuted by government http://www.cypnow.co.uk/cyp/news/1148224/yot-stocktake-assess-services-evolve.
In the adult criminal justice arena there is a danger that such an exercise can result in private sector organisations engaging in gaming activities where maximising profit becomes the intention over enhancing the well-being of the individual. The government’s flagship Payment by Results (PbR) schemes at Peterborough and Doncaster did not go to plan: the results appear disappointing for the Ministry of Justice http://www.russellwebster.com/disappointing-outcomes-for-peterborough-and-doncaster-prison-pbr-pilots/
I would like to respectfully remind Michael Gove and Charlie Taylor of the above issues and also that the rationale for payment by results in the youth justice system is largely rhetorical with few arguments of substance http://thenayj.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/2011-Payment-by-results.pdf
A PbR model of service delivery for children who offend that emphasises market mechanisms may be counterproductive as profit may take priority. Effectively enhancing the welfare of the individual is of secondary concern. PbR is premised on the idea that organisations involved will receive financial reward for meeting prescribed targets. The focus is on short term reoffending (a simple yes/no indicator of criminal activity is used) at the expense of other longer-term developmental outcomes. Measuring success is very complex especially as factors overlap and intersect as frequency and/or severity may reduce but offending may continue http://thenayj.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/2011-Payment_by_results_and_the_youth_justice_system.pdf
Although some young people who offend may be more receptive resulting in success and in turn financial reward, others may be more difficult to engage where the securing of a successful outcome is problematic. Such children may not benefit then – arguably in any shape or form – if this was implemented.
Despite its flaws PbR is a model that purports to innovate and make a ‘real difference’ to the hardest to reach. Ironically it is the ‘hardest to reach’ who suffer the most in PbR. Children with complex needs (who are also often the most marginalised and disadvantaged) may then be put aside as there will be no financial reward if the intervention fails and offending continues.
Some of the key successes of recent times include reduced numbers in custody and first time entrants to the Youth Justice System. However as Lord McNally recently said such achievements have exposed a cohort of persistent and serious young offenders https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/lord-mcnallys-speech-to-the-criminal-justice-management-conference-2015
Such children present very complex needs that the Youth Justice System currently struggles to address in the face of continual dwindling resources. Indeed the withdrawal of state support is evident in many areas of public life not least universal services and in particular those available to young people. With the system not addressing such needs and PbR being arguably ineffective – at least where children are concerned – are Social Impact Bonds a better alternative?
Although there are perceived ethical and moral issues with PbR as a model of service delivery for vulnerable children, another model potentially associated with the work of Youth Offending Teams is social investment in the form of Social Impact Bonds (SIB). More specifically SIB can help to alleviate financial pressures and could be a positive way forward in terms of engaging the ‘hard to reach’ – though this remains untested.
SIB could be another approach to deal with crime in these difficult economic times and a potentially viable solution to fill gaps in service provision left by reduced state support. Raising the capital from private companies, if positive outcomes are achieved investors see a sizable return on their investment. Although the government reward such providers financially for the achievement of such social goals it can be cost-effective in the longer term for tax payers providing significant upstream savings.
Although the true impact will be determined by the length of time it would take to see a ‘return on investment’ SIB could prevent children and adult offenders entering the prison system and help to reduce health and social care spending over time.
In contrast to youth justice practice that is often deficit-led and may increasingly become distorted by being profit-led, I believe the way forward is to re-think how to engage the ‘hard to reach’ through the utilisation of the Shared Decision Making model. There should be a commitment to working towards provision being user-led, where opportunities to co-design and shape service delivery are created.
Crucially children’s experiences of disempowerment need to be explored and solutions found fundamentally by involving children in assessment and decision-making processes – through their terms of reference – doing ‘with’ rather than ‘to’.
I am not aware of any child who has offended being consulted about the proposed in year cuts to Youth Justice Services which will directly impact on them as service users. This is perhaps unsurprising as children are all too often seen and not heard in the youth justice context.
As service users children are key stakeholders and have a unique insight into ‘what works’
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