• By Dartington SRU
  • Posted on Thursday 18th November, 2010

Restorative remedies

Youth crime is rarely out of the news but why it should command such attention is an interesting question. It is true that adolescents and young people commit a large number of crimes However, many of these are relatively minor property offences, so gravity is not the issue. Other unwelcome activities, such as hooliganism and disrespect, fall under a more general heading of anti-social behaviour. These, though, are not always criminal, and are consequently difficult to bring to a successful legal prosecution. So, like the ambivalent social position of the adolescents themselves, the response of the criminal justice system is muddled, seeking a balance between punishment and welfare, struggling with a perceived gap between gravity and court disposals, and concerned about the relationship between current and future behaviour.In the United Kingdom, efforts have been made to adopt a rational approach to youth crime. In 1997, the new Labour government separated offending from welfare by setting up the Youth Justice Board. Juvenile crime was seen as the product of social and psychological forces that can only be mitigated by a broad approach. A new range of sanctions was introduced and specialist youth offending teams offered a multi-disciplinary approach. All this was complemented by educational reforms, changes in drug and alcohol legislation, and the introduction of community projects for those at risk of anti-social behaviour. However, there was always a cautious eye on public opinion and tough sanctions were applied in some cases, raising concern about the extensive use of prison custody and the difficulties of providing therapeutic and rehabilitative regimes therein. The Independent Commission on Youth Crime and Anti-Social Behaviour decided to take a fresh look at the situation and published its report Time for a Fresh Start in July 2010.The report’s authors acknowledge that if strategies are to be effective, the underlying needs of offenders have to be met, the young people have to face up to the consequences of their actions and accept responsibility for them, and services should help young people to grow out of crime rather than become more deeply entrenched. A model of restorative justice lies at the heart of the recommendations. This brings together perpetrator and victim to agree what needs to be done to make amends.A review of the prevailing services revealed that insufficient attention was being paid to the prevention of crime. Young people who could be turned away from offending are not getting help, and persistent offenders are treated in way that aggravates rather than ameliorates their behaviour. The public and media also need to be educated about the true extent and nature of juvenile crime. In addition, and especially pertinent in the current economic climate, the provision of custody is expensive and largely ineffective at preventing reoffending. Thus, the proposed model integrates prevention, restoration and integration.Prevention strategies were found to be thin on the ground, given that a plethora of research has revealed the significance of early upbringing, educational experiences and service involvements in ameliorating criminal behaviour. Moreover, recent sophisticated studies have incorporated these factors into the models of “chains of effects” based on the concepts of “risk” and “protective” factors. Sufficient knowledge is now available to act positively, both for the minor nuisance delinquents and the more serious and/or persistent adolescent offenders.The inquiry team then scrutinised research from several countries to identify preventive services shown to be effective. These include parenting support; pre-school education; school tutoring; behaviour and life skills strategies; family therapy; treatment foster care; constructive leisure opportunities; and mentoring programmes. Key examples are then provided, whether for work with individual children, parents and families, schools or local communities. Attention is also paid to especially vulnerable groups, such as those with psychological, speech, language and communication disorders, looked-after children, and those abusing alcohol and drugs. The ideal is a structured programme of investment in the most promising preventive approaches, including universal services working with children and families in an area, and “targeted” prevention. To avoid stigma, the emphasis, when offering targeted services, should be on the immediate needs of children, not the risks of future offending. To facilitate this, children with behavioural problems must be properly assessed to identify potentially complex welfare problems. Services alone are not enough and there has to a system of sharing information about effective practice and delivery, with a central resource to manage this and disseminate new knowledge.This report is important because it is based on a critical review of authoritative research and offers a strategy that combines prevention, restoration and integration in a way that each complements the others. Details of validated programmes are offered for a variety of child, family, school and community problems and an implementation strategy is laid out. It is encouraging to see prevention given a positive and forceful role in the spectrum of services dealing with this perennial problem.Reference:Independent Commission on Youth crime and Anti-social Behaviour, Time for a Fresh Start, 2010

Back to Archives