Police and crime commissioners (PCCs) have been criticised for failing to invest in youth crime prevention programmes.
However, a new report by the Transition to Adulthood Alliance and Revolving Doors Agency highlights ways that PCCs are now commissioning and supporting projects to tackle offending by 18- to 24-year-olds.
The report authors say a quarter of the 43 PCCs in England and Wales now include "young adults" or "youth" as a priority in their plans, as recognition grows of the distinct vulnerabilities young people experience in their transition to adulthood.
The criminal justice system treats young people as adults when they turn 18. However, the report states that PCCs have a crucial role to play in joining up the youth and adult judicial systems, and outlines examples of how commissioners are taking the lead.
South Wales PCC - Diverting young offenders
Young people aged 18 to 25 arrested for minor offences are offered the chance to participate in diversion schemes. They are issued with an adult community resolution instead of a caution or out-of-court disposal, and are required to have an interview with a diversion worker who creates a tailored intervention plan addressing behaviour and using a restorative practice approach.
Independent evaluation of the scheme last year found writing letters of apology to victims and attending "shuttle" mediation sessions provided young adults with time to reflect. Piloted in Bridgend in 2013, it was extended across the force region in 2016 and looks set to be refunded in 2018/19.
Cumbria PCC - Establishing a youth Commission
Last April, Cumbria PCC Peter McCall funded Young Cumbria to establish a Youth Commission to influence decisions about policing and crime prevention in the area.
A total of 32 youth commissioners aged 14 to 25 were recruited, and undertook consultation with 3,000 young people in the county. They established a set of priorities including hate crime, mental health, bullying and underage drinking, and throughout 2018 will work with police, the youth offending service, Cumbria Council and the PCC to apply ways to tackle these.
In addition, the commissioner has funded an initiative that encourages 15- to 24-year-olds at risk of exclusion or offending to work in a local community garden. Participants gain qualifications, while produce is donated to Carlisle Foodbank.
Gloucestershire PCC - Helping substance misusers
Commissioner Martin Surl has introduced a substance misuse diversion and support project to avoid criminalisation of young people for minor drug offences. He hopes that an early intervention approach can reduce the risk of minor drug offences becoming a trigger for young adults getting involved in more serious crime.
The initiative aims to reduce the number of 18 to 24 year olds entering the justice system as a result of minor drug offences by identifying those at risk; and provide substance misuse support to prevent young adults with convictions of committing further offences.
The project is supported by a new overarching programme that aims to tackle the causes of young people committing crime.
Expert View: ‘Police and crime commissioners are right to prioritise the needs of young adult offenders'
By Sean Creaney, Edge Hill University, and Dr Tim Bateman, University of Bedfordshire
As is evident in the examples of promising practices, police and crime commissioners (PCC) appear to be initiating positive and constructive schemes with young adults who cause harm or are at risk of further offending.
Approaches such as mentoring, youth champion roles and forums, shadow boards, diversion and restorative practices exist to reduce the number of 18- to 24-year-olds entering the formal justice system. There appears to be a focus on placing young adults at the heart of the system, prioritising their voices and lived experiences. Such initiatives can help to prevent criminalisation and maximise diversion in the form of tailored out-of-court disposals.
This practice is in accordance with the evidence that formal contact with the criminal justice system can reinforce a criminal identity. This stigmatising and labelling course of action can hinder the process of desistance and impact negatively on their life chances.
The report states that professionals should have the option to extend youth justice support. Although a distinct approach is required to meet the needs of the 18-24 cohort, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child defines a child as a person under 18 and requires that methods for dealing with children are distinct from adults. If we breach that provision, there is a real risk that an extended system wouldn't see the need to address children's rights specifically.
Part of the current advantage children have is higher levels of resourcing. That could be diluted if the upper age limit of the youth justice system was increased. There is also a risk that children would be treated increasingly as adults and if the system expanded, children would be outnumbered two to one by young adults.
Nevertheless, there is a need to invest in innovative PCC schemes dedicated to addressing the distinct needs of the 18-24 cohort. We should consider reintroducing young adult specialist teams with smaller caseloads to reduce such stubbornly high reoffending rates, address unmet needs and achieve positive outcomes.