'Problem-solving' courts for young offenders to be trialled

By Joe Lepper

| 23 March 2017

Efforts to improve the way young offenders are dealt with are to be tested, with problem-solving courts set to be established across England.

The Centre for Justice Innovation has been given funding to trial problem-solving youth courts for two years. Picture: Becky Nixon. Posed by models

Problem-solving courts, which are currently only used in adult settings, aim to address offending behaviour through the co-ordination of services, including and beyond those provided by youth offending teams (YOTs), to reduce crime and improve wider outcomes for children, victims, and families.

The Centre for Justice Innovation has been given funding to trial the approach for two years and is looking for court sites who are interested in setting up or improving their youth courts to take part.

The centre's team will offer support during the pilot, which will include extensive evaluation with the aim of helping youth courts across England and Wales adopt the model, which has a strong focus on rehabilitation and addressing the root causes of criminal activity.

Ben Estep, the centre's youth justice programme manager, said the model could be particularly important in youth justice, where the number of cases has fallen in recent years but young people remaining in the system tend to have more complex and challenging needs.

"The kinds of cases coming before youth courts have changed a lot over the last five years," he said.

"There are substantially fewer cases but there's an increasing concentration of complexity among those cases. That calls for a response to how youth courts deal with those cases and an opportunity for courts to look more closely at underlying causes."

Youth courts being sought to take part include those with a track record of testing innovative approaches in dealing with complex cases.

A notable use of the problem-solving model in the adult court system is through family drug and alcohol courts (FDACs), which deal with children in care cases involving parents with substance abuse issues.

An evaluation of FDACs showed that four out of 10 mothers stopped their substance abuse by the end of proceedings, compared with 25 per cent of those who were dealt with through ordinary care proceedings.

They are also being used in a small number of adult criminal courts, such as St Albans Crown Court, for dealing with drug offenders and Sefton's complex cases court, which uses problem-solving techniques to deal with cases involving vulnerable offenders with mental health issues.

The deadline for youth courts to apply to take part in the pilot is 21 April.

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