Plan to tackle disproportionality


Justice experts react to review recommendations on ways to reduce offending by BAME young people.

Labour MP David Lammy's independent review into the treatment of black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) people in the criminal justice system makes a number of recommendations for improving the way young people are dealt with.

Among these, he calls for greater involvement of parents and key community figures at an early stage of young people's offending.

Key to this, he says, is to replace youth offender panels with local justice panels, which take direct inspiration from Rangatahi courts in Maori communities, where local people with a direct stake in a young offender's life, such as teachers, contribute to hearings (see box).

Youth offender panels are meetings where young people who have offended and received a referral order, their parents, victims of crime and members of the community, come together to discuss the offence, helping them to take responsibility for their actions.

Lammy also wants better use to be made of existing parenting orders, describing them as a "key tool" for courts that are rarely used, suggesting youth offending teams (YOTs) have "little faith in their efficacy". He has called on the Ministry of Justice to review their effectiveness and replace them if something better can be found.

Here, experts react to the ideas and what benefits they could bring.

Community involvement key:

Ali Wigzell, chair, Standing Committee for Youth Justice

David Lammy is absolutely right to recommend that youth offender panels need to involve key local services. So often, children's offending is a symptom of the other problems in their lives, whether it's homelessness, abuse and exploitation, or mental health difficulties. To address such problems, it makes sense for relevant local services to attend the panels in reflection of their critical role in the child's rehabilitation.

The key test will be whether the panels possess sufficient powers to hold services to account when support is not forthcoming.

We would also like to see the same holistic and community-centred ethos applied to youth courts, with hearings in community settings explored, as Lammy suggests, and problem-solving approaches enhanced.

While we recognise the need to provide support to parents of children whose behaviour is problematic, we believe parenting orders are not the most effective way to achieve this. We would prefer to see investment in supportive non-stigmatising approaches, ideally provided by mainstream welfare services that could offer evidence-based support such as functional family therapy, multi-systemic therapy or, failing that, from parenting professionals working as part of YOTs.

Cultural sensitivity needed:

Jacob Tas, chief executive, Nacro

The review rightly identifies that family relationships and community involvement form a critical part of helping young people move on from the criminal justice system.

Parents often need extra support to cope when they have children convicted of an offence. The review provides an opportunity to explore how best to involve parents and enable a more holistic and culturally sensitive approach to support the families of BAME young people.

There must be a focus upon understanding specific issues including relationship breakdown, and equipping families with the right tools to work through these challenges through tailored counselling, therapy and mental health support that can help to tackle the root causes.

The introduction of local justice panels within community settings involving teachers and social workers could provide valuable insight and understanding, especially for first-time offenders and could make a difference in preventing future reoffending.

The involvement of local people with a direct stake in a young BAME person's life could help them to turn their lives around due to having a dedicated team working with their families.

Parenting orders unhelpful:

Andy Peaden, vice-chair, Association of YOT Managers

YOTs work with parents on a voluntary basis, and the majority of parents welcome the input and support. At the point of sentencing, parents agree to work with the YOT, and a good proportion of them do so positively. Parenting orders are needed in very few cases. They are designed to promote compliance by parents, not to punish them. Parenting orders can unnecessarily criminalise parents, especially as it is the young person who has offended, not the parent.

Sanctions imposed through parenting orders can add further pressure on families, and undermine the welfare of the young person, which is not conducive to reducing offending. The Troubled Families programme has a whole-family approach, and is viewed by YOTs as a positive way to address parenting issues. Since the programme began in 2012, many families have been supported to address parenting issues.

Lammy's view that we need "well-designed, clearly-evidenced alternatives" to parenting orders is one which AYM supports. There is far more parenting provision in place than he acknowledges, but we support the need for a stronger evidence base to ensure resources are focusing on the right areas.

RANGATAHI COURTS INCREASE COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT

In New Zealand, Rangatahi courts operate in the same way as the youth courts - with the same laws and consequences - but involve young Maori offenders and members of the adult Maori community. They are for young people who have admitted guilt.

After a sentencing plan has been set, Maori young people can choose to have their case monitored by the Rangatahi Court. Those who opt for this appear in court fortnightly, in front of the same judge.

Also present will be extended family, police officers, social workers, the young person's lawyer and the victim if they choose to attend.

The hearings are designed to bring together families, communities and the offender to reduce reoffending.

Lammy Review from https://tinyurl.com/y8k5tbbr

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