Youth Justice The Next Steps

The artificial percentages presented by the Government as evidence of their success with past Acts which targeted youth offending are misleading, and the recent proposals will only increase pressure on the newly reformed youth justice system rather than making it more efficient. Attempting to streamline the YJS making it more "efficient" by cutting court cases and creating Community Restorative Justice Panels – in reality takes power away from the courts, and so they become less effective in punishing and rehabilitating young offenders.

Of the three proposals the ideas of greater involvement of the community, and rehabilitation while in custody or on bail are the two most promising . By further adapting these policies more towards an authoritative intervention and prevention – with court sentences coupled with a stronger local Youth Offending Teams/Social Services that are broader reaching and more involved in young offenders lives- the result becomes prevention through punishment and rehabilitation: a more aggressive variation on the inherently passive rehabilitative approach.

The result would be a more manageable re-offending rate and a realistic chance towards achieving their themes of "restoration, responsibility, and reintegration" The proposals are optimistic as they have a dual goal of protecting and educating young offenders (YOs), but the underlying idea to shift more YOs out of court's hands in their need to reduce the amount of cases because of an overloaded court system undermines their aims.

The short-term gain of freer courtrooms will soon be overtaken with young offenders re-offending – as they are allowed to do so until a court takes action. The newly reformed Green Papers – the compilation of the 1998 Crime and Disorder Act (CDA), with the new Referral Orders and strengthened ASBOs – are too complicated for YOs to understand and respect.

The Final Warning Scheme and Reparation and Action Plan Orders as pre-court interventions are a lax foundation making the existing Reprimands and Final Warning provision for YOs less stringent- as the scheme stands the YO is given three opportunities to offend before any detention/serious probation is administered. This is too lax a system for those YOs who are increasingly less afraid of government, rules and police, and have a lack of awareness and respect for their communities.

For example, just three weeks ago a young man of 16 was sentenced to life in prison for stabbing a young woman in 2003. He had a string of previous convictions, starting when he was 13, when he attacked Ms. Watts. Instead of giving this obviously disturbed young man in need of constant supervision three "chances" before going to court, the juvenile court system should have put him in a 24-hour juvenile supervision hall with curfews the first time he committed such a serious offence.

Unfortunately, if YOs are handled via the passive CRJP instead of being suffocated by the justice system, they will continue to offend. Setting up specialised juvenile courts, with a close-knit relationship between the court staff and the YOT/Social Workers is essential for intervention and supports the YO through the judicial process. If there was adequate communication between these officials there would be no need to print the proposed "Young Defendant's Pack" as all the explanation could be done one-on-one with the young defendant and their parents.

The second step of this adaptation – prevention – ties into the proposal from The Green Paper- the training of young offenders who are already in prison. These young adults might benefit more as they are actually serving the punishment and so be more receptive to help. The proposed Supervision and Surveillance provision does include an extra 4,200 (by January 2004) spots for sentenced juveniles and bailees, but should include spots for those who are finishing their sentences so that young offenders are helped through every step of their rehabilitation program.