UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE
To be published as HC 339-i

House of COMMONS

Oral EVIDENCE

TAKEN BEFORE the

Justice Committee

Youth Justice

TUESday 19 June 2012

Enver Solomon, Alexandra Crossley and Andrew Neilson

Mark Johnson, Iris, Armande, and Andretti

Evidence heard in Public Questions 1–88

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Oral Evidence

Taken before the Justice Committee

on Thursday 21 June 2012

Members present:

Sir Alan Beith (Chair)

Steve Brine

Mr Robert Buckland

Jeremy Corbyn

Christopher Evans

Mr Elfyn Llwyd

Seema Malhotra

Yasmin Qureshi

Elizabeth Truss

________________

Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Enver Solomon, Chair, Standing Committee for Youth Justice, Alexandra Crossley, Senior Researcher, Centre for Social Justice, and Andrew Neilson, Director of Campaigns, Howard League for Penal Reform, gave evidence.

Q1 Chair: Welcome, Alexandra Crossley from the Centre for Social Justice, Andrew Neilson from the Howard League, and Enver Solomon from the Standing Committee on Youth Justice. We are very glad to have you here helping us in what is the first of our evidence sessions in our work on the youth justice system. I will start by asking you about the 1998 Crime and Disorder Act and the objectives that it set out, preventing offending by children and young people. To what extent has that system worked and achieved its objectives?

Enver Solomon: The story has certainly been mixed. If you look at recent years and certainly the declining numbers of children going into custody-almost 40% in the last three years-then that tells a story about how there has been more effective use of resources to try and reduce the use of the most serious tariff. But, if we look at reoffending rates, the story is really quite mixed, and the impact that the creation of YOTs and the YJB has had on trying to bear down upon reducing offending has been proven to be quite challenging and difficult. That tells the story of the fact that we are dealing with children and young people who have very complex social problems and there is a limitation to what the criminal youth justice system can deliver in trying to resolve those complex social problems. You will all know the data on the number of children that have mental health problems and learning difficulties; many will have been on the cusp of the child protection system; a number have been in the looked-after system. These are entrenched social problems at the route of their offending, and trying to turn around the lives of children that have such entrenched social problems is extremely challenging.

Alexandra Crossley: If I could add to that, I was the lead researcher and author of the CSJ’s Youth Justice Review. One of the main findings in our review is that there is a consistent failure by local services to prevent offending and reoffending. In preventing offending, we find that so many children who end up in the system are falling into that system unnecessarily because other services have not given them the support that they need. We find that children’s services, which are particularly hard-pressed at the moment, cannot meet the needs of young people who are in trouble with the law or who are at risk of being in trouble with the law. They do not meet the threshold for support, and children’s services priority, understandably, is children-very young children and babies. Young people who are on the edge of the youth justice system do not fit that category. We also know that school exclusion is still very prevalent and we feel that much more needs to be done to tackle that.

Then, on the other side of things, once children are in the system, they do not necessarily receive the support they need from other services to free themselves from the system. Again, we find that children, once they are in custody, are taken off school rolls prematurely. We find that schools are very reluctant to take them back after they have come out of custody. The difficulty is getting young people stable accommodation while they are in community orders or in custody. We know that a lot of the problems in terms of preventing offending are associated with those services that lie outside the system that are not meeting their statutory duties in relation to young people in trouble with the law.

Q2 Chair: We will return to some of those issues around preventing young people from getting into the system in the first place probably today and in our subsequent inquiry. Have there been any downsides that were unexpected, unintended consequences of introducing the changes in 1998?

Alexandra Crossley: Just to draw on what Enver was saying about youth offending teams, again, their creation was welcomed because, often, services for youth offenders ended up being the Cinderella service. The creation of youth offending teams made sure that young people in trouble with the law got some support, but the problem is that other services see that the YOT is involved and relinquish responsibility to the YOT. They receive less in the way of support from other services like children’s services and schools. Some people may say that is fine because youth offending teams are multiagency teams and they have all of the support to do that themselves, but the fact is they do not. They often have not become those multiagency teams that they were intended to be. Secondees from other services often remain in youth offending teams permanently or they are never seconded in the first place. In some cases youth offending teams are not multiagency; they are just another criminal justice silo. So there is a real problem there.

We called for a review of the structure and responsibilities of youth offending teams and other services to children involved in youth offending teams because, on the ground, there is some confusion there at the moment. Other services feel we give funding to youth offending teams, we give secondees to youth offending teams or not, and therefore they assume that they can just relinquish that responsibility when that was not what they were intended to do.

Andrew Neilson: Also, going back to the first principles, the 1998 reforms were about a criminal justice response before a welfare response. The purpose of the youth offending teams is to reduce reoffending, not children’s welfare, and yet, as we have heard, welfare is the root to the most effective interventions. Part of the problem with the reforms is that it created this expanding machinery. Yes, there has been a reduction in recent years in the number of children in custody, but there were a few hundred children in custody in the early 1990s, and we have now seen thousands of children-3,000 at one point as a high and 2,000 now-and yet reoffending rates remain the same. There is a degree to which the machinery has selfperpetuated the problem rather than doing anything about it. Part of the issue there is that the system has become a bit of a mush. It has just enveloped all sorts of different things and we are in danger of losing sight of the purpose of a youth justice system, if you have a youth justice system, and the limits of that system. For example, I would say that things like prevention and early intervention should lie outside the youth justice system.

We should also remember the very important role that the police have in terms of potentially diverting young people. Then you have a relatively small youth justice system, hopefully, where downward pressure is being exerted, and that system should not really be seen as the place where solutions lie. So, as I say, you are trying to avoid sucking young people into it, but you are clear that that system is there. If it is there, it is for 10 to 17-year-olds.

Then, at the other end, we also need to remember that there is the transition and what happens to those young people when they leave the system. I know there was mention in the Lords last week that there might be a White Paper on young adults and I just want to say something briefly about young adults because that transition is very important. There are organisations like the Howard League or the T2A Alliance, of which we are members, who are looking into that. We also need to think about that and it would be good if the Committee thought about it.

Chair: Certainly we realise that that is part of the inquiry area.

Andrew Neilson: It is important that we are clear that it is not about expanding the youth justice system to take that age range in. It is potentially about looking at some of the good things about the youth justice system and replicating them in a distinctive approach for young adults. The danger we have seen since the 1998 reforms is that the youth justice system has massively expanded-I do not think necessarily to any great beneficial effect-and some more clarity is required.

Q3 Chair: Are the indicators that the Ministry of Justice uses to measure the youth justice system the right ones?

Enver Solomon: They have become better. The indicators had things like the offences brought to justice target that was driving a lot of young people into the system unnecessarily; the removal of that was positive. The introduction of the first-time entrants target was a very positive measure to have, and there has been a substantial reduction in the number of first-time entrants into the system. But I would express concern on behalf of the Standing Committee about the fixation upon reoffending. Reoffending is absolutely important, but if you look at the criminological evidence it suggests that there is a substantial cohort of young people who will grow out of offending, who will move away from offending-

Q4 Chair: If you do nothing at all.

Enver Solomon:-as they move into adulthood. But we need to understand that, for those persistent offenders who are deemed to be more chronic serious offenders, moving away from offending is a process. It does not happen overnight, and part of that process is often about taking two steps forward and one step back, but this is what practitioners will say to you. There are certain things that will be achieved in the course of moving away from crime and some of those are absolutely pivotal to making a difference to that young person: for example, their relationships with family and their peers; their ability to engage in education or training; if they are moving into independent living, their ability to find stable accommodation; the resettlement package and support engagement in substance misuse programmes as well. We must not lose sight of the importance of having that cluster of measures in place to recognise that there is a whole number of determinants that contribute to reducing reoffending.

Q5 Mr Llwyd: Can I first of all declare an interest? Last year I served on an advisory panel for the Howard League where they were looking at exservice people in the criminal justice system. Recently I went to Italy to look at the youth justice system and that visit was partly sponsored by the Howard League. We have already touched upon the decrease in the number of youngsters in prison at the moment from 3,000 to around 2,000. We have touched partly on this, I know, but what are the main reasons for reduction in the number of young people in custody since 2008 and is it possible to speculate on how these reductions could be sustained?

Andrew Neilson: There are a number of factors, which I am sure my colleagues will mention. Enver has already mentioned two of them and I would like to pick up on one of those, which is the offences brought to justice target. This emphasises the importance of the police as the gatekeepers to the system. It is very interesting that we saw that target dropped in 2008 and you start to see a drop in the number of children in custody. The issue there is that the offences brought to justice target was effectively encouraging the police to pick up children and arrest them. If you are literally being judged on how many offences-there is no qualitative judgment on the offences but it is literally on the quantity-it is easier probably to get in your police car on a Saturday night and drive around until you find some young people hanging around on a street corner and pick them up and rack up the offences rather than necessarily, say, chase a hardened burglar across the roofs of the town, which is just one offence that you have managed to deal with. It was positively encouraging the police to arrest young people. Certainly, we have done some freedom of information requests of police forces and have seen that, since that target has been dropped, the arrests of children have dropped. Police have been able to use their discretion more and use more restorative disposals as appropriate. Some forces are better at it than others and the targets are still used by some forces, but that is really key and it filters all the way down then, in the end, to how many children you have in custody.

Alexandra Crossley: I would completely agree with that point about the OBTJ targets and their impact. In sustaining reductions, there is a lot more that can be done to iron out the discrepancies in the custodial sentencing rate. For instance, at the moment in Newcastle the custodial sentencing rate for under-18s is, I think, 1.6. In a matched area-Liverpool-it is 11.6. To me, that is completely unacceptable. There is a lot more that we can do in terms of training our sentencers and defence lawyers to better understand children’s needs and appropriate sentences for them and more training for presentence reports, because they are a key determinant of the sentence that the young person receives. We know from inspection reports and from the evidence that we have gathered that they are often of a very poor standard.

In increasing training of sentencers, we feel that they should have to attend a certain number of youth panel meetings per year, because at the moment they do not necessarily have to. They do not necessarily have the expertise, especially as they also have to sit in the adult magistrates court. They should visit secure custodial facilities and community sentences a couple of times a year so that they have a better understanding of what they are sentencing. Obviously there is a cost attached to these changes, but, in terms of the impact on outcomes that these changes could make, they are well worth looking at.

Enver Solomon: I would concur with what my colleagues have said, but I think there is also a significant factor here. Credit where credit is due. The YJB in the last two or three years has made a concerted effort to improve information flow to local authorities and incentivise them to engage with their local youth court benches. For example, the YJB wrote to every local area to inform them of the number of children from their local area that were going into custody and encouraged YOTs and local authorities, who are ultimately sponsors of YOTs as well, to engage with local sentencers so that they were aware of the information and they were making decisions that were the most effective decisions for the young people that were coming to court. That has also been a contributory factor. I do not think there is one single factor that stands out, but there have been a number of developments that contribute to the reduction.

Interestingly, also, in the last year on year, there has been about a 28% reduction in the numbers remanded to custody. I would bring that to the attention of the Committee because that is, again, a significant shift. That is partly the system adjusting to the fact that there are going to be devolved budgets, but it is also about the centre-the YJB focusing down on the issue and encouraging local areas to look at the numbers being remanded into custody.

Q6 Mr Llwyd: I am aware of the Howard League position on this, but could you tell me if you had any thoughts on the efficacy of shortterm custodial sentences for youths?

Enver Solomon: When you say "shortterm", what are you thinking?

Q7 Mr Llwyd: It was thought that the LASPO Bill was an opportunity to do away with them. I understand that the average time spent in custody on a shortterm is about 78 days, and one wonders what can be done with the youngster in those 78 days. I know the Howard League have a settled view on it. I am just wondering whether Ms Crossley or Mr Solomon have anything to say about that.

Enver Solomon: The key thing in the justice system-and it is a key principle in the justice system and one that is not tried in sentencing principles-is proportionality. The custodial sentence needs to be proportionate to the nature of the offence committed and the court needs to have the capacity to determine what an appropriate sentence is in response to that. If we moved away from suggesting that we need to determine lengths of sentences based on different criteria because there is some assumption that if we put children in custody for longer it gives a greater capacity to rehabilitate, those would not be the correct principles to guide sentencing decisions.

Q8 Mr Llwyd: But the contrary argument is should they not be rehabilitated or an attempt made during those 72 days or whatever it was?

Enver Solomon: I do not think custody can ever be an effective forum for rehabilitation. It is ultimately constrained and limited by the nature of the custodial regime. The most effective way to rehabilitate children and young people is to address the multiplicity of issues that they face in the community because, ultimately, whether they reoffend or not is going to be how they respond, how they live and how they engage in educational training or whatever in the community.

Alexandra Crossley: We think that custodial sentences below six months should be abolished; that would be periods in custody below six months. We would say that the minimum DTO should be 12 months, because we feel that the average time in custody is so low that it is too short to allow anything productive to be done in custody and it is just long enough to destabilise anything that is going well in the community, such as education or relationships with family. But, obviously, the risk is that, by having a minimum sentence of six months in custody as part of a 12-month DTO, then you risk having more children going into custody on a 12-month DTO. What we would say is that there needs to be a higher custodial threshold introduced alongside so that only the most serious and prolific offenders go into custody, which we do not feel is the case at the moment.

Q9 Mr Llwyd: The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act allows for repeated cautions for repeat offenders. Pre-1998 that was thought to be ineffective in terms of dealing with reoffending. Do you think that outcomes will be better this time around?

Alexandra Crossley: The Government are proposing to issue guidance. One of the problems with cautions prior to 1998 is that they were not necessarily used in appropriate circumstances or proportionately. The key is that this guidance that the Government issue protects against this. In terms of the youth conditional cautions, because the police will have oversight of the YCC rather than the CPS-at least those are the proposals-we have a concern that there is a danger that police will have greater powers without similar or parallel increases in their accountability. We think there need to be other measures put in place to make sure that the YCC is used in appropriate circumstances and effectively, to make sure that the whole system of cautions is more effective than it was.

Q10 Mr Llwyd: Do you believe that sentencers are in fact right to be concerned about the lack of provision of positive requirements that could be attached to a youth rehabilitation order?

Enver Solomon: I would say definitely, yes. Particularly a problem for girls as well is the lack of provisions that recognise the different gender experiences. There is an issue here about resource and capacity. There has been a parallel issue in relation to adults as well, and it is about the fact that all the requirements need to be genuinely available if the court is going to have the option of creating a package that meets the needs of the young person.

Andrew Neilson: It is also a major concern because of the Youth Justice Board’s conception of how the youth rehabilitation order would work. We would argue it was a mistaken conception. They talked about a scaled approach. You are effectively looking at risk of offending and you are looking to make more intensive interventions the higher up the risk of offending. That might at first glance seem to be sensible, but when you are talking about risk of offending you are talking about welfare needs. It is the people with the high welfare needs who then score high on the risk of offending, and the concern there, first, is that you are in danger of criminalising welfare, again using these orders to try and tackle problems that should be dealt with outside the youth justice system. But, secondly, then you absolutely will need those positive requirements to be available because they are the ones that will have the most effect, and, if they are not, then these young people with real issues will be put through a lot of interventions that are on the more punitive side because the positive interventions are not there, and that will not be effective.

Alexandra Crossley: It is worth highlighting as well that, from these sentencers that I have been speaking to, it is not just the more innovative requirements that are not available, such as intensive fostering, but those requirements that you would assume to be essential, such as education. Magistrates have been speaking to me and saying that they are even struggling to have those in place, which I would say are essential for rehabilitation. There is concern among youth offending teams and sentencers that, as the cuts will continue, that position is going to worsen.

Q11 Mr Buckland: I will just explore the proposal to have a minimum DTO of 12 months. There is a minimum at the moment, is there not, which is four months, and we have this rather artificial ladder going from four, to eight, to 10, to 12? Don’t you think it would be better to allow the courts more discretion by just getting rid of these rather artificial stages in a DTO, which, from my experience, do not seem to be borne out by any reality when it comes to particular programmes that are put in place for young offenders and that it would be far better to allow courts a proper discretion without abolishing sentences but in guidelines to encourage the sort of constructive alternatives that we are talking about?

Enver Solomon: Yes. If we are going to sustain the decline in custody numbers, there is a case for having a threshold set in law. In Canada, they introduced a very effective threshold in statute a number of years ago that applies and, similarly, under the new legislation-the LASPO Bill-in effect there is going to be a limit on or a barrier to the use of remand and there are going to be certain requirements that would need to be followed. Applying a similar approach, certainly the Standing Committee view is that we should have in statute a custody threshold that meaningfully means that custody is generally used as a last resort.

Q12 Chair: Is that going to lead to more situations where you get a frustrated police officer saying to a victim of crime, "Well, we’ve got him, but they won’t do anything with him. They won’t lock him up"? That does lead to a rather-

Enver Solomon: That is premised on the assumption that the only effective solution is custody. There are many other effective solutions, and, indeed, I am aware that the Committee went to Scandinavia and looked at different options. The assumption that custody is the most effective solution I would challenge and there are far more effective solutions that can be delivered in the community. The challenge is getting those interventions right rather than seeking to use custody more readily.

Chair: Maybe there is a challenge to us all as well and to you to make sure of wider dissemination of that knowledge among the people involved in law enforcement-not everybody, obviously, because police officers and youth offending teams are very well aware of the range of possibilities.

Q13 Steve Brine: I would start by saying, yes, the Committee did go to Scandinavia, but we did not look a great deal at noncustodial alternatives for young people who committed offences. We visited the Multifunk in Oslo and in Copenhagen, and we looked at the preventative work that they do with people who have high risk factors who maybe go on to offend. It is highly expensive and very controversial, but we will no doubt include it in our report. Sticking with the word "preventative", starting with Mr Solomon, I know in submissions to this current inquiry we have had concern expressed to us about the funding to YOTs as the Government are forced to reduce public spending. To what extent are you witnessing cuts to YOTs’ preventative services and can you give us any examples?

Enver Solomon: This is a very important question. The picture is very unclear because we do not have anyone systematically at the centre trying to capture in a meaningful way the changing makeup and structure of YOTs. There was a recent survey that was done by the Association of YOT Managers, in collaboration with the sector publication Children and Young People Now, which clearly suggested that YOTs, as conceptualised under the 1998 Act, were gradually, if I can use the phrase, fraying and changing quite dramatically. The notion of having a dedicated YOT manager responsible for a youth offending team I do not think is something that exists in the vast majority of local authorities. We have YOT managers with other responsibilities, including responsibilities around troubled families and broader community safety.

Certainly, if you look at the amount of allocation that has come to YOTs from the centre, that has been reduced. It is difficult to determine the degree to which the local authorities are going to reduce their funding to YOTs, but there is no doubt that they have less money available than they did previously. The structure and functions of the YOTs is radically changing, and we need to understand that more clearly and have a better grasp of what is happening and what is the impact for those working in the youth offending teams.

Alexandra Crossley: One of the issues that has been coming up most frequently when we have been talking to youth offending teams and directors of children’s services about prevention is the fact that the ring fence that was around prevention moneys was removed last year. Prevention is not a statutory duty. This has meant that YOTs are pinching those moneys to plaster over the cracks essentially that are appearing elsewhere as a result of the cuts not just from the YJB grant but also from the cuts to other services. So they are also withdrawing money and secondees from youth offending teams. I guess that the flipside of the multiagency and the partnership approach is that all of those services in some areas are reducing funds to the YOT. As Enver said, with regard to troubled families teams and multiagency safeguarding hubs, I have been hearing that in some areas the police are withdrawing moneys from the youth offending team and putting those into multiagency safeguarding hubs. That may be the best thing to do, but there is so much change going on at a local level that is affecting YOTs that there needs to be a rethink over their structure and what they can reasonably be expected to do in the current landscape.

Q14 Steve Brine: Do they need more rethink, though, or do they need to get on with the resources they have? Do they need another rearranging of the deck chairs?

Alexandra Crossley: There is some element of "Where there is a will there is a way", and they are having to do less with less and just get on with it. Prevention moneys were given to YOTs because other services were not pulling their weight in terms of prevention. The fact that money came to the youth offending teams let other services off the hook, but we are now left in a situation where the YOT does not necessarily have prevention moneys, other services do not have prevention moneys, and we are at risk of storing up huge problems for the future. When we are thinking about prevention, we all know how important it is whether they can meet their responsibilities there.

Andrew Neilson: As I said earlier, I would question whether prevention should lie within the youth justice system, for the reasons Alexandra has said.

Q15 Steve Brine: Does the move to local commissioning of secure accommodation result in better outcomes for young offenders? Do you want to comment on that, Ms Crossley?

Alexandra Crossley: I would challenge, from the conversations that I have been having with local managers, whether there even is a move to local commissioning. I have spoken to most of the deputy directors of children’s services, and their directors say they do not think there is. Yes, they are becoming more responsible for funding, but they do not feel they are getting a say in the commissioning. Yes, were we to move towards local commissioning and with local funding, we are likely to see further reductions in custody as they invest in prevention and community alternatives, but there are huge problems with how local commissioning and secure provision works because local authorities are not going to want to block purchase beds. They are going to want to spot purchase beds and providers are really going to struggle to keep going on spot purchase. There is always going to have to be an element of national commissioning with local decision makers having a say and a representation in the decisions that are being made at a national level.

I guess there is another question. If we go down the local commissioning route, do they go down the really innovative "Let us invest in really good local provision", or does it prompt a race to the bottom where they all go for cheap, big YOIs and we do not know whether they produce the best outcomes? It could go in two antithetical directions and the jury is still out on that.

Q16 Steve Brine: It is quite a high risk experiment then, is it not?

Alexandra Crossley: Yes.

Q17 Steve Brine: We are going to find out in five years’ time.

Andrew Neilson: The Howard League published a report some years ago now called "To Devolve or Not to Devolve", which is available on our website and I can make available to the Committee, which looked through the pros and the cons of this when the last Labour Government were starting to think about potentially doing it. Absolutely, there are some arguments for it, and you can see that it would perhaps remove some of the perverse incentives that we have talked about. But, particularly in the current environment with cash-strapped local authorities, who is to guarantee that they will divert children away from custody and pool their resources more cleverly, when, potentially, a provider might come along and say, "A YOI is £60,000 a year. We’ll convert a warehouse and do it for £30,000 a year. Would you be interested?" There is a real danger of that, and the context remains that you can change funding arrangements and the financial engineering, but there are still problems of law, policy and attitudes that need to be addressed when it comes to young people.

Q18 Chair: But is there not a distorting consequence, which is seen in spades in the adult system, that, if you have nationally commissioned places that are always available but a battle to gather together the funding to provide alternatives to custody, custody will tend to win?

Enver Solomon: That is certainly the case, and there is evidence from the States where different localities have devolved budgets in the way that you talk about, that it incentivises the system in a different way. The problem is that we are a small country. There is an argument for saying that Wales or regionally we should try to look at this, but an individual local authority-a unitary authority-is not going to want to have that responsibility, understandably, but that should not prevent us from exploring how we can have more effective regional commissioning or local commissioning or using community budgets across or pooling resources in different ways, because there must be a way of making sure that local areas are incentivised to see the consequences of different options and are financially responsible for those decisions.

Q19 Mr Buckland: To conclude, Mr Solomon, following on from your comment about people growing out of it, I am just trying to get clear in my head where you are going with that. What message does that send to local authorities commissioning to YOTs, as if to say that somehow offending is a right of passage? My four-year-old is into biting at the moment. I am sure she will grow out of it, but that doesn’t mean it is something I just have to put up with. Where are you going on "Young people tend to grow out of it"?

Enver Solomon: Indeed, and it will be your parenting support and everything that will contribute to that child. It is about the range of interventions and support that is made available. My fundamental point about local authorities is that-particularly with police and crime commissioners coming in and the fact that community safety budgets are moving to police and crime commissioners, and resource and decisionmaking in local areas about whether they invest more in diversion, early intervention or prevention is going to be led largely by the agenda set by police and crime commissioners-they have a great deal of authority and power to determine the infrastructure in their local area and the nature of decisions that are made about young people when they get into trouble with the law. It is important that local authorities, when making decisions and particularly using the most punitive sanction of custody, do not simply get that as a free good, because, if they do get that as a free good, as the Chair was suggesting, then ultimately it does not incentivise them to face up to the financial consequences that come with that.

Chair: We are running a little short of time, but Elizabeth Truss had a supplementary question.

Q20 Elizabeth Truss: You talk about whether or not local authorities are capable or have the capability to do it. How do you think that fits in the with the troubled families programme, which surely has to be integrated into this work, because quite often the young people that we are talking about are part of a broader problem within the family?

Enver Solomon: Absolutely. This goes back to the point that Mr Neilson was making that prevention is not simply the preserve of youth offending teams. Prevention cuts across all children’s and family services. It is an issue for children’s social care; it is an issue for troubled families. Prevention is about working with families and not just leaving it to the YOTs but leaving it to local authority services to effectively support young people. It is also about education. It is about the response when a child is expelled from school or excluded from school. We know the relationship between exclusion and offending, and those agencies need to work jointly to do that.

Q21 Elizabeth Truss: Are you saying that more of the budget should be allocated to the troubled families and it should go through that?

Enver Solomon: Money should be used for effective prevention services. If the evidence demonstrates that the troubled families initiative is a more effective prevention mechanism-we don’t know yet because we do not have the evidence to suggest whether the initiative is going to have the impact that the Government hope it will-then a conclusion to be drawn would be that it would be better to invest in that. But it is not about recognising that there is one simple magic bullet, whether it is troubled families or this particular intervention. It is about how services right across a local area support the young person when they are excluded from school, whether they are on the cusp of the child protection system. It is about how those services engage to provide early help. The Munro report was absolutely right that there should be a statutory requirement on local authorities to provide early help for young people to avoid their problems escalating and them inevitably ending up in the youth justice system, which so often happens.

Q22 Yasmin Qureshi: I just want to explore the issue regarding the reduction of reoffending, because one thing that troubles everyone who is working within the criminal justice system and the Justice Select Committee is that the overall reoffending rate for young offenders seems to have remained static for about the last decade or so at about 33%. You probably know that the Youth Justice Board had given some idea as to why they think this is the case, one reason being that, on average, numbers of reoffenders will commit about three offences soon after they come out. There is also a suggestion that perhaps some of the young people causing this are the ones who are at a higher risk. The people in the system who are causing this are the repeat offenders again; so it is the same people committing multiple offences. Then probably you have heard about the young offenders’ institution in Hindley where they have opened up the Willow unit where they have taken some troubled youngsters out-the very troubled ones-and there is intensive working by prison officers who are specially trained to work with other people.

There has been some suggestion also that what works with reoffending is the quality and the extent and the nature of the relationship the young person has with an adult. That has been suggested as one of the things that helps.

I just wanted to ask you, in light of all this, why you think the reoffending rate is still static at about 33%, when in other countries-for example, in some Scandinavian countries-in some cases they have been able to reduce the reoffending rate by 70%.

Alexandra Crossley: Thinking about the binary offending rate, it is a very crude measure and it generally cannot be expected to show any mark of improvement. Any changes that do take place are usually offset by, I guess, the policing of the usual suspects, so that would fall in with what the YJB were saying. But, in terms of measuring the impact of interventions, we do know that the better measures are frequency and seriousness, and we do know that there have been reductions in both of those in relation to various interventions. In short, there is consensus definitely among the academics and the professionals that I have spoken to that we should not worry about the binary offending measure too much because the more accurate measures are frequency and seriousness. That would be my response to that.

Andrew Neilson: It comes back also, to some degree, to the reality of the age range that we are talking about. As Enver alluded to, he said people grow out of crime. This is the highest risk time to be offending because you are pushing boundaries; you are becoming an adult. It is a reality that it is going to be the hardest time to tackle it on a binary rate, but, if you are looking at frequency and seriousness, that is where you can really make a difference in those years.

Enver Solomon: Your point about relationships is absolutely right, and where there hasn’t been the success in the way that there should have been is particularly in the quality of the relationship between those working in the YOT and the young offender. There is a lot of learning from Munro’s analysis for children’s social care and child protection and applying that to YOTs. YOTs have become very focused on process; they have become very focused on a kind of bureaucratised manualised approach to engaging with children and young people; and they have lost sight of the importance of the quality of relationships, engagement and investing in time, and the value of giving professionals a greater discretion and confidence to make decisions and judgments. They have been expected to breach on the basis of a very manualised procedural approach, and often these are not the most effective ways of engaging with a young person and getting them to change their behaviour.

If you talk to young people and children who have been in the youth justice system-I know the Committee will be doing that-the overwhelming message that comes through as the factor that makes a difference to them is the quality of the relationship that they have had at some stage with some individual during some intervention at some point. We must not lose sight of the value of those relationships in making sure that we have the right trained staff, with the right equipped skills, to build those relationships with children and young people, who have had tremendously difficult lives. I am not making excuses for their behaviour by any means, but, unless we recognise what is required to change their behaviour, you do not get the outcomes that we are all seeking to deliver.

Alexandra Crossley: I was just going to concur with Mr Solomon on the relationships point because I think that was the overwhelming finding of our review. We spoke with between 200 and 300 professionals and young people, and that came through very strongly. I remember one secure manager saying to me, "If no one cares about them, they don’t care about themselves and they don’t care about anyone else." That is why relationships make such a difference because they are so often at the source of their offending that they are also a fundamental part of the solution.

Within that, as Enver said, it is about ensuring that practitioners are not just following the process but that they have the discretion to tailor their responses to young people, they do not spend the majority of time behind their desks and realise the importance of facetoface time. It is people and not programmes that make the real difference. It is about that one single stable relationship, not having 10 professionals involved with that young person, because that just reinforces the inconsistent relationship or the experience of relationships that they have had throughout their lives.

Chair: We are running out of time so I think I would like to turn to Mr Evans, if I could.

Q23 Chris Evans: The age of criminal responsibility is very low in this country, and it is only Sri Lanka at eight and Switzerland, Nigeria and South Africa that are lower. There has also been some neurological research by the Royal Society that says brains are still developing at the age of 10. Do you think there is any merit in the argument that the age of criminal responsibility should be raised?

Enver Solomon: Absolutely. It is the view of the Standing Committee for Youth Justice and we represent a number of organisations. We do not take a specific view on what the age is, but it is our view that, in line with the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, the recommendation is that it should be at least 14. We think that that would be a far better position to be in in accordance with the UN’s position-at least 14 and, arguably, even higher than that. We do not see that raising the age of criminal responsibility in that way would have adverse consequences on the level of selfreported crime in England and Wales. It is very positive that the British Crime Survey is now capturing under-16-year-olds, and that is the most accurate crime data available-selfreported crime data rather than just police- recorded data. I do not think that raising the age of criminal responsibility will have any adverse consequences.

Alexandra Crossley: We at the CSJ think that it should be raised to 12. We feel that there obviously have been significant developments in the research evidence in relation to neuro development since it was raised to 10 in 1963. There is generally consensus that 10 was agreed to be a fairly arbitrary age level. It was hoped that they were trying to raise it to 12 and 10 was the halfway house. But, for us, one of the most important things in raising it to 12 is that it forces those welfare services to take responsibility for these children, because the consequence of the low minimum age of criminal responsibility and the fact that children’s services are hard-pressed means that they just get handed over to youth offending teams. We know that children who start offending at a young age, such as nine, 10 and 11, tend to have a higher level of welfare needs that would be better addressed by robust welfare responses rather than youth offending teams, because we know that criminalising children tends to increase their likelihood of reoffending. But it is worth pointing out that raising it is not a magic bullet. We know that children like the killers of Jamie Bulger would still go to custody under a higher minimum age of criminal responsibility of 12. So we still need to think about addressing the problems in secure facilities, and we also know that police would have to respond to offending whatever age they offend at.

Q24 Chris Evans: Can I just come in with a question there? The Children’s Commissioner for England, when she was giving evidence in 2010, said that she found it amazing that the Bulger children were tried in an adult court. Do you think that was a problem? She also said that some of the most hardened young people do get scared sometimes. That is probably the most famous case of young offending. Do you think that was handled wrongly then?

Andrew Neilson: It was handled wrongly, but in any country where they have a higher age of criminal responsibility, if they were faced with a crime as extreme as that, then the outcome would probably be very similar. The children would spend a lot of time, probably the entirety of their childhood, in secure accommodation, but it would not be under the criminal justice label. It would be under the welfare label. So it is perfectly doable that that case is always used as an argument for not raising the age. Could I just very quickly answer an aspect of the last question because we have not talked about the secure estate and it is worth just touching on that? I know we are running out of time.

Q25 Chair: We are running very short of time. It will have to be a very quick answer.

Andrew Neilson: The Willow unit was mentioned. It is worth just saying something abut that. The Youth Justice Board is making decisions about the secure estate at the moment and we fear that the decisions they are making are without an evidence base. They have commissioned research into the effectiveness of young offender institutions compared to secure children’s homes and secure training centres. That research will be published next year, but the decisions are being made now. In our evidence submission we highlighted the closure of secure children’s homes, for example. The problem with these special units is that they are appended to young offender institutions and they are in a sense one of the reasons why we are seeing other forms of custody such as secure children’s homes being closed in favour of, we think, a cheaper model of putting in these special units in with YOIs. The danger is that you then perpetuate the YOI that is beside the unit. The question the Committee should be asking is, if we are talking about very vulnerable young people, young people with mental health problems, why are the Prison Service running these units? These are not the people to be doing it.

Chair: If that point is not fully covered in the written material we have already had from your organisations, by all means give us a supplementary note on it. At that point I am going to have to bring this part of the session to a close and thank you for your assistance. By all means communicate with us on that point if you want to.

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Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Mark Johnson, Iris, Armande, and Andretti gave evidence.

Chair: Welcome, everybody. You have kindly offered to tell us who you are, so I had better tell you who we are. We are the Justice Committee. I am the Chairman of it. I am a Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament. These are two of our staff on my right. I will just let the other people introduce themselves.

Mr Llwyd: My name is Elfyn Llwyd. I am from a small but very well formed party. I was a lawyer years ago-a solicitor dealing with young offenders-and, later, at the bar as well.

Yasmin Qureshi: I am Yasmin Qureshi. I am a Member of Parliament for the red party-the Labour Party. My constituency is Bolton South East; it is near Manchester in the northwest. A bit like Elfyn here, I am a barrister, and I used to practise in criminal law as well as representing parents with children who have been taken into care.

Seema Malhotra: I am Seema Malhotra. I am the Member of Parliament for Feltham and Heston, which is by Heathrow airport. I was elected in December and I had worked in business before coming here.

Chris Evans: My name is Chris Evans. I am a Member of Parliament for Islwyn. I am not ginger, I do not wear glasses and I do not present a radio programme on Radio 2. Also, I am not Captain America, but I represent the most beautiful constituency in all of Britain, and, as you can tell, before I came here I worked for four years as a parliamentary researcher. Before that I was a trade union official.

Jeremy Corbyn: I am Jeremy Corbyn. He only says that because he has never been to Finsbury Park. I am a Member of Parliament for Islington North, which is north London and the Finsbury Park area. I am really grateful to you for coming this morning and I am particularly interested in youth justice issues because of many issues that have faced us in our community. Thanks for coming to give evidence today.

Steve Brine: I am Steve Brine. I am a Member of Parliament for Winchester and Hampshire, for a large and generally well formed party called the Conservative Party. I am just interested in hearing from you; thanks for coming. I am interested in hearing what you want to do with your future and how your past has helped you in doing that.

Mr Buckland: I am Robert Buckland and I am the Conservative MP for South Swindon. Before I became an MP I was a criminal barrister prosecuting and defending in lots of cases involving young offenders, so I will have met many people in your position. What I still do as an MP, whilst Parliament does not sit, is sit as a judge parttime in the Crown court, so I am still dealing with cases involving young offenders quite regularly.

Chair: That is enough to put anybody off really, isn’t it?

Elizabeth Truss: I am Elizabeth Truss, Member of Parliament for South West Norfolk.

Q26 Chair: Now tell us who you are.

Mark Johnson: My name is Mark Johnson. I am the founder of an organisation called User Voice, a Guardian columnist and on the board of trustees for London Probation.

My experience is my qualification. I have literally trod the same path as a lot of these guys that are talking today, and I founded my organisation based on the principle that I believe the people that make decisions often do not understand the reality of the problem and there is an unwillingness there or often, in the provider industry as I call it, there is an agenda not to want to listen. The voice of reality is often too uncomfortable to listen to about your services. So I founded the organisation User Voice.

Looking at youth justice, we represent the person. We realise that the system comes at the young person in silos. If you are in a court, you are a young offender; if you use mental health services, you are a mental health service user. There is a detachment within that of how we look, but, often, one person is representative of all of those and it is what you call a commissioning nightmare, because when you take a new idea or an innovation forward about looking into the reality of crime, believing that the solution can come out of the problem, you cannot get funding for it and, as I said, it is a commissioning nightmare.

So I set up User Voice, used some of my own money, got some early investment, and will turn over £1.5 million after three years of registering as a charity. What is quite special about it is that it is user-led. It is run by exoffenders for exoffenders. We deliver services in high security places. We deliver in the secure estate, YOT, prison and the adult offending community, and it is 80% led by exoffenders. I am sure that that is what will come through with these guys today.

I have brought a report that has not been released yet. It will be of interest to this Committee because this is literally led and delivered by exoffenders for young offenders. Everybody has basically coproduced this report. It doesn’t have an agenda attached to it other than that the voice of reality is absolutely firmly in it. It has not been released. The Minister Crispin Blunt has written a forward for it and has been fully behind it. We worked with 700 young people that were involved in criminal justice last year. So, from 740, it went down to 130, who took part in focus groups. Then the community selfselected its own representation of leaders out of the community, which is some of these guys.

Q27 Chair: They have been chosen as leaders.

Mark Johnson: By the community, democratically elected. The whole of User Voice’s work is all democracy. In prison, the whole prison goes to vote on who goes to see the Governor and we work with skills, basically. It stops it being a griping shop for individual complaints. It is actually more issue-based work. We took 30 and drove them right in the middle of the Youth Justice Convention last year and we made a profound impact. The Youth Justice Convention has existed for 11 years. We got the highest feedback score in the whole of the existence of that convention. I find it personally pretty alarming that the Youth Justice Convention does not include young people; it is the first time that it has seen young people come into the centre of the room. As a result, the Minister is supporting it, and hopefully we will be doing it this year as well. We do a coproduced event where we plug people into each other, so commissioners, provider and end user all together. So that is me really, but it is in that report and I think you will find it very interesting.

Q28 Chair: We look forward to getting that. Can we find out who your colleagues are?

Armande: My name is Armande. I am 16. I am an exoffender but I am currently in the process of bettering myself for my own benefit. Hopefully, Mark can lead the way for me.

Andretti: I am Andretti. I am 22 and I am from Wood Green. I am also an exoffender who has changed my life for the better, and working with User Voice has given me hope to stay on track.

Iris: My name is Iris. I am 17. I am from Canning Town. I am an exoffender but I am working on track to get myself better as well.

Chair: We are going to open one or two different topics and I am going to ask Yasmin to raise the first point.

Q29 Yasmin Qureshi: Good morning. I just wanted to discuss the issue about diversion-diverting young people away from the criminal justice system. The Committee normally receives evidence from different groups of people within the criminal justice system and we hear conflicting evidence sometimes coming through to us. For example, the Criminal Bar Association believes that there are too many young people who are being charged and brought before the courts for minor offences, and yet the Magistrates’ Association seems to think that there is overuse of out-of-court disposal. So you have two organisations saying almost two completely conflicting things.

From your experiences-the three of you-how many times had you come into contact with the police before you were taken to court?

Andretti: My first time being arrested I had to go straight to court and then after court I went straight into youth offending. So it was literally arrested, court, youth offending. There was no chance or anything, and I do not think that is right.

Iris: My first time it was dealt with within the place that I got caught at and they just wrote it down in their book. The second time I was let off on reprimand and then I got arrested and taken to court.

Q30 Yasmin Qureshi: So you had two what we call diversionary-

Iris: Yes, two before I was actually taken to court.

Q31 Yasmin Qureshi: Then the third time was in court.

Iris: Yes.

Armande: The first time I was arrested it was dealt with in court, but the first time I was put on probation that was on my third arrest.

Q32 Yasmin Qureshi: I was going to come on to an additional question, which is, did the youth offending team or any other agency do anything or help to stop you reoffending?

Armande: No.

Steve Brine: Mark is saying, "Elaborate." I am saying he doesn’t have to elaborate. Yes or no are words we do not often hear in this place. It is quite refreshing.

Chair: It is quite refreshing.

Q33 Yasmin Qureshi: Did the youth offending team or any other agency help you, which stopped you from reoffending again? Are you saying, no, they didn’t help?

Armande: Apart from giving me an insight as to, basically, just more information on my charges, the effects of the charges, consequences-apart from anything I could have generally thought of myself and known already-I was not helped to better myself until I came into contact with User Voice, because it was through them, which is probably why I am still here now as a free man because I was leading on a wrong path and then I met my friend Cordelle here, who works for User Voice. We first met in my YOT and he showed me a five- minute little video and asked me if I wanted to get involved. I said yes. I went in for my meeting, came back out to chat to him, and he just got me involved, and from there, step by step it has just progressed really well. I think I have come quite far.

Q34 Yasmin Qureshi: The other question I was going to ask you is what do you think could have been done to make the process more successful? You have just mentioned that an organisation like User Voice helped you.

Armande: Definitely.

Q35 Yasmin Qureshi: Can I ask the same question of you as well?

Andretti: My YOT did not help me at all. I used to go there. They used to ask me if I am all right, if I am keeping out of trouble. I could say no and they do not know if I am lying or not because the way I see it is I never used to like going to YOT because I could not relate to this person that I am working with. Basically, they’re just qualified on paper. You do not know nothing about my life or where I am coming from. I don’t know nothing about your life or where you’re coming from, so we’re not going to see eye to eye. I just wanted to go in and get out.

Q36 Yasmin Qureshi: What do you think could have been done? What would you have liked to have?

Andretti: I needed someone that was more like me, that has been on the path that I was taking, that has taken that path, that has been in trouble, that has changed their life and that could show me the way where I am now and how I am showing these kids that I work with where I have gone. There was no one like that for me, so I couldn’t really see no future for me. I was just still on the roads; the YOT did not help me at all.

Iris: For me it was a bit different because me and my YOT worker got along quite well, and it was when I started going to YOT and he let me open up quite a lot as well so he would keep me on track. Even though I would only see him once a week it was enough for me, and then when they put me on my community service order as well that took up a lot of my time, so there wasn’t any chance for me to go out and reoffend anyway. Then when I got involved with User Voice it helped me even more, so, yes.

Q37 Yasmin Qureshi: Do you think anything further could have been done or do you think the help and assistance you were given was good?

Iris: Yes. It was good enough, yes.

Q38 Jeremy Corbyn: What did you do on the community service order?

Iris: They took me to a bike repair shop, so I was just repairing bikes for 20 hours.

Q39 Jeremy Corbyn: Did you learn anything from that and could you have developed that into a job if you wanted to?

Iris: Not into a job. I am not the kind of person that would fix a bike, but it gave me a lot of skills and communication skills as well, so, yes.

Q40 Jeremy Corbyn: In your case, where your worker was uncommunicative with you, do you feel that you did not try hard enough or you just felt no empathy at all?

Andretti: I was young. I was about 1617 and I tried to understand where she was coming from because I know it is her job and what she had to do, but at the end of the day I am coming there to rehabilitate myself, to go there for the better, and she wasn’t helping me at all.

Q41 Jeremy Corbyn: How would you change the system?

Andretti: The system now?

Q42 Jeremy Corbyn: Yes. How would you change what happened to you to make it more productive?

Andretti: Like I said, it is not just necessarily qualified on paper and going to uni to have to do these sorts of jobs. You need to be able to relate to the young people; you need to be able to have that form of trust and bond to make them want to open up to you within the first two sessions. All you have to do is just talk about something that you have in common with them and then YOT can-

Armande: Young people work well with people that can relate to them like in their own circumstances, in their own environment, because a lot of YOT workers know a lot about the people that are coming to see them. For them, in their shoes, it is just a 9 to 5 job. They are getting paid to overlook our situation and just keep us out of trouble, but at the end of the day a lot of that doesn’t help because there is still such a high reoffending rate. If you can find YOT workers who actually relate to the person-say, like, my YOT worker. I had a good relationship with her, but she hasn’t been in my position and she knew a lot about me and I didn’t know anything about her. [Mobile phone rang] I am so sorry; that is an alarm.

Chair: It must be your YOT worker.

Armande: They knew a lot about me; I didn’t know much about them. There was just no trust barrier, so there was not much they could do for me because I just couldn’t relate to them.

Q43 Mr Buckland: I have looked very carefully at the CVs you have given me and it is very helpful. Andretti, you are the only one that has had some experience of custody.

Andretti: Yes.

Q44 Mr Buckland: Was that as part of a sentence?

Andretti: Yes.

Q45 Mr Buckland: Was it one of these detention and training order sentences?

Andretti: Yes.

Q46 Mr Buckland: How did that work? There should be a plan, shouldn’t there, in place that you should be part of? Did you feel that you were part of that? You knew what was going on and knew what the outcome was going to be.

Andretti: No. When they sentenced me at first I got a 12-month DTO, so I had to serve six months. When I went to the prison I went to the induction wing. They just gave me my clothes, which were too small for me; the shoes were too small. I didn’t get no plan; they just put me in my cell, and then from there I just had to adapt by myself and just go with the flow.

Q47 Mr Buckland: How long was the induction? How long did they give you in that wing?

Andretti: Two weeks I was on that wing.

Q48 Mr Buckland: The way that these DTOs or detention and training orders are portrayed is that there is some structure to it and there is a plan, and when you are released you know what the plan is going to be.

Andretti: I don’t know about that, but when I was in jail, which was November 2007, there was no plan. There was just simply, "You’re in jail now. This is it. Get on with your time and go home."

Q49 Mr Buckland: What I had heard-and this is supporting what I heard when I visited young offenders institutions-is that there did not seem to be any difference between the DTO and another sentence of youth custody for older offenders who were over 18.

Andretti: I got a DTO. I finished my DTO and then I got rearrested at the gate for another crime. Then, when I got sentenced for that, I was 18. So then I went to a big man jail.

Q50 Mr Buckland: Did your sentence cross over the time between turning 18, or were you there as a young offender and then coming back after the age of 18?

Andretti: No, I did not come back. I went straight.

Q51 Mr Buckland: Because sometimes there is a problem, isn’t there, between the move from being a young offender to being over 18? Did you have a direct route? Were you in the system when you turned 18?

Andretti: Yes.

Q52 Mr Buckland: How did that work? Was there any plan made for the change to you becoming an adult?

Andretti: No, there was no plan. It was just on the bus, straight to a new jail and then straight again, induction wing again, and then just, "Get on with your time."

Q53 Mr Buckland: On induction periods you have had two weeks. It may be that Mark can help here. Perhaps you guys can help as well; you may have friends who know about this. My understanding is that the length of time for an induction has been lessened. It is lower now, isn’t it? It is a lot less. Two weeks is quite a long time now. Do we have any information as to how long inductions are now?

Mark Johnson: It is generally two weeks in a lot of places that we work in. For me that is not the biggest issue. The biggest issue is what the content is of that induction. It is like you have said about sentence planning. Because of all the secure estates and YOIs we work in, what is a plan? It is a booklet of tick boxes where you say you have attended this programme. It is not measured on how effective that has been. It is just that you have been on it. Everybody is running around getting these tick boxes. The other problem with it is that certain establishments will not do some of the programmes that you need on your sentence plan that is given to you, in which case you get relocated hundreds of miles away from home to attend a course and you are kept there longer because of the transportation system and then you get sent back. So there is a detachment in what that sentence plan means, but also it is the effectiveness of it.

Q54 Mr Buckland: I am going to involve the other witnesses as well because all of you have some family support, don’t you? In each case were your parents or was your mum involved in the sentence at all in helping to work with probation or not?

Armande: With me, the only involvement my mum had was for the panel meeting, and from then on she had to get all relevant information from me. There is not much contact between the youth workers-people in the YOI and the user’s parents. There is not much contact between the two.

Q55 Mr Buckland: Do you think it would have helped your mum if she had been more involved?

Armande: Yes. Every time I came home she wanted to know what I have done but she didn’t know; but she is meant to.

Q56 Mr Buckland: Iris, what about you? Do you think having more family involvement and knowledge about what was going on would have helped?

Iris: Yes, it would have. All they did, as soon as my last time at court was done, was they just gave me a paper telling me what my order contained and that was it. My parents did not know much about my order any more, so I would have to come back and tell her that I am finished. She wouldn’t really know at all.

Q57 Mr Buckland: So you would have to explain.

Iris: Yes.

Q58 Mr Buckland: Give me some ideas about how it can be done better. What do you think?

Iris: In a way I wouldn’t really know because I don’t really have my parents involved with a lot of that. Once it was over, it was just up to me to get it over and done with. They didn’t really need much involvement anyway.

Q59 Mr Buckland: It depends on the relationship you have with your parents, doesn’t it, very often? Some people have a bad relationship and perhaps it would make things worse, but where you have a good relationship, and I think you guys have good relationships certainly with your mums-

Iris: I have a good relationship, yes.

Q60 Chair: Do you have any thoughts on that?

Andretti: Pardon?

Chair: Did you have any experience pertinent to that?

Andretti: Even when I was in prison my mum wouldn’t know how I was doing unless I phoned her or unless I sent a VO. She was going through breast cancer at the time and I didn’t really want to stress her and make her come and visit me all the time, but at the same time it would have been nice if I had an assigned probation worker or YOT worker on the outside that when they visit me they will go and visit my mum and sit down and just let her know how I am doing and just let her know that I am fine, just to ease her mind, but there was none of that. If I needed something from my YOT worker, my mum would have to chase them up and it was just all messy.

Jeremy Corbyn: When you came out of prison, what exactly was explained to you and what support were you given about doing other things and getting work, housing and so on? Were you given help on that?

Chair: We are going to come to that, Jeremy. We are going to come to that question a bit later because Chris was going to explore that area.

Jeremy Corbyn: Were you talking to Chris, not me?

Chair: At a slightly later stage Chris was going to ask everybody about that.

Jeremy Corbyn: I am going too quickly. Okay.

Chair: You are getting ahead of us. It was Seema who was going to come in next.

Q61 Seema Malhotra: Thank you. One of the wonderful things to hear you say is that you are exoffenders and that you have made some decisions about changing your lives. My question is really a very simple one. What made you decide to stop or what stopped you offending?

Andretti: For me it was that two-year prison sentence, just being in there for two years, especially at the age of 17, going and sitting in there on my 18th birthday and then my 19th. I was still young and that is my freedom taken. I’ve come out and two months later I was expecting a son. So I couldn’t go back down that road because I needed to change for the better of my son and for my mum, and for myself really, because with crime, obviously I was getting money but I wasn’t feeling good. Now I feel great. I’ve got a job, I’m doing things right. I don’t have to look over my shoulder. I don’t have to worry about the police.

Q62 Chair: So family responsibility was the big thing for you, was it?

Andretti: Yes.

Q63 Chair: Suddenly you have to think about somebody else.

Andretti: Yes.

Q64 Seema Malhotra: If I am right, Andretti, did you have any gang involvement?

Andretti: Yes.

Q65 Seema Malhotra: Did that affect your ability to change course for yourself?

Andretti: When I came out, going back to the same area where I grew up, obviously it was going to be hard seeing the same faces, the people that I was doing stuff with come out and they are still doing the same stuff, and it is like when I see them it’s a bit awkward. I realised I just did not want to be with them no more so I had to change. I just had to do it.

Q66 Seema Malhotra: What about you, Iris?

Iris: For me it was the stress that I was putting on my parents at the end of the day. For the times that I had offended before but had not been taken to court I think I did not realise how much it was starting to stress them out. Then, with the whole trial and the whole court case as well and me being excluded from school whilst I was doing my GCSEs and everything, it was just a lot of mess and there was no need for it. So then, afterwards, I just thought that at the end of the day, if I want to make something of my life, I have to stop doing what I am doing because there is no need for it.

Q67 Chair: Do you want to come in on that as well-about what was the big factor for you?

Armande: For me to stop offending?

Q68 Chair: Stopping offending, yes.

Armande: I was pretty much shown the way, just as I was in that transition period when I thought I had had enough. I just had had enough of being in and out of cells. It wasn’t nice. I haven’t been to prison and don’t plan on going to prison. I have a lot of friends with experience. I know what it’s like in there and that. I don’t want to be in that situation. I have my mum to think about as well because she is constantly worried about me, always asking me where I am; I get texts. Then from when I got into contact with User Voice it was just from there I started to change my life around and they showed me other things I could do-positive things. I was volunteering for a few months, getting involved, just making positive movements. It is selfsatisfaction as well because, since doing it, I feel much better about myself. It’s nice.

Q69 Seema Malhotra: Is there anything else that might have happened earlier for you to make that change for yourselves-that it does not have to be this way and you can do something?

Armande: If opportunity is placed before people that need it most, then it is up to them whether or not they want to grasp opportunity and change their life around. If they don’t, then, you know, but there are people out there that do need the help that User Voice are providing, and with that help reoffending rates will dramatically decrease over a number of years with integrated business, because this is a newborn organisation. It has expanded dramatically since it’s been founded and there are only good things that can come out of it.

Q70 Seema Malhotra: There is something for each of you that was a turning point in your sense of responsibility for yourself, maybe for other members of your family, and there were different triggers for that. Is there anything else that you feel could have been done earlier in the cycle that you went through that maybe could have been that trigger, and, also, was there anyone else in the justice system at any point that also made that difference for you?

Iris: When I first offended, if they hadn’t let me go so easy and at least had taken me through court, then, at that time, my first offence, I would have not done it again. I wouldn’t have. It was the fact because they let me go more than once I was just starting to think then I’m never going to get caught, I’m never going to get in trouble, and that is what pushed me to the edge. But, if I’d been taken to court the first time or at least given a proper warning, then I wouldn’t have done it again.

Armande: What I think she is getting at, right, is what triggers the change. That is what you want to know, right?

Seema Malhotra: Yes.

Armande: It is like a lot of people don’t have the opportunity or resources to find out about organisations such as User Voice because it is not promoted as much as it should be, but I reckon, if people are more aware of opportunity around them, then they are more likely to get in contact or attend some sort of-what’s that word?-User Voice conventions. I think they do help to get people drawn into what we are about. But a lot of people, when they are just coming out of jail and things like that, they don’t know where to turn to because it is not placed in front of them. It is just like, boom, you come out of jail and then nothing; you just go home. There’s no rehabilitation. They might call it that, but it doesn’t help. That is why reoffending rates are so high. As a young person, you have to realise something, like for me to know that I have not been in jail yet.

Q71 Mr Llwyd: The three of you were very young when you offended first, and are still very young, but I would just be interested to see what you have to say about this. I was in Milan about a month ago, in a court where they dealt with youngsters. In that setting, each and every time the youngster was supposed to be in court his parents had to sit in with him or her so that they had to become part and parcel of everything that went on in the court. I am interested to have your response, because, Iris, you said that when you were dealt with, for example, you had your order, you went home and you tried your best to explain what it was to your parents. Yes?

Iris: Yes.

Q72 Mr Llwyd: That did not help very much, did it?

Iris: No.

Q73 Mr Llwyd: I am just wondering whether you think that would be a good path to follow in terms of helping you out of your trouble.

Armande: Sorry, could you just elaborate?

Q74 Mr Llwyd: The simple question is if, for example, your parents had to be there in court with you at every court hearing and they had to sit alongside you when the judge or the magistrates were considering the next step, do you think that would have been helpful?

Armande: In a sense where you would feel more comfortable, yes, but it depends on the relationship you have between your parents.

Q75 Mr Llwyd: Just briefly, I saw this thing in action and it seemed to work. The reoffending rate is very low. There was one case in particular where there was a young lad sitting in the middle, his mum and dad on each side who had actually divorced, but they had to come and support him and they did support him through that particular difficulty. I am just wondering, generally, whether you think there is any merit in that.

Andretti: In some cases it can work; in some cases it won’t because at the end of the day you never know what that young child is going through at home. He might be acting the way he is because of the way his parents are acting. You don’t know if they are always fighting and it is taking a toll on him, and he is going out and releasing his anger or what. But in some cases it could be all right because when I was going to court I never wanted my mum to come because I just used to think it’ll be-

Q76 Chair: You wanted to protect her from it, did you?

Andretti: Yes, plus, I know what she is like as well. She will probably try and slap me or something like that and I didn’t want that embarrassment. But, yes, it could work because, sometimes going to court, the kids will probably go to court in a tracksuit, whereas if you are going with your mum you might be in a little shirt and your trousers. It is just 50/50 at the end of the day.

Mark Johnson: Could I just take a point from the report? This question was asked. More than half-so 55% of the 740-of young people said they did not have any role model. Of those that did, the most frequently cited were immediate family members-78%. Topping that list came mothers at 26%. However, these are the same mothers that they do not want to ask for help for fear of worrying them. They also turn to siblings and fathers-17%.

Q77 Chris Evans: I just want to pick up on what Jeremy said earlier. What support was available to you at the end of your sentence? Was there any support at all? What I am concerned with, particularly in your case, Andretti-I have done some research in the past-is that people are not being met outside the prison gates. They are getting back into the way of life and there are no pathways into employment or training or-I know you are living with your parents-accommodation as well. What support was available to you?

Andretti: Six months before I was released I was assigned to some independent charity called Trailblazers. They work with you six months up to your release date and then six months after your release from prison. I liked the woman I worked with because, even though she was a woman, there were certain circumstances that she has been in that she could relate to me and she would tell me certain stories that were similar to where I went, and we got on well. But it still wasn’t really enough because-I don’t know-maybe I was thinking it was a woman and maybe I needed a man role to really phone up on me when I am out, check on me, because when I came out all I used to do was go to probation and they didn’t do nothing for me except tell me to sign on at the job centre. So I think there should be more in place to help people whilst they are in jail, to let them know what options are available for them while they are leaving, and when they do leave there is more of a wide-how would I put it now? I don’t even know; I am stuck. Basically, for me what I needed was someone to be out there to just give me support because I could not really rely on my mum. I needed someone that I could speak to, like, "I need help with this. Where do I go?" I went to Connexions; they didn’t help me. There needs to be support for exoffenders.

Q78 Chris Evans: What about Iris and Armande? Was there any support available to you when your sentence ended-I know you did not go to prison-because you are both now doing training? You are in college. How did you end your cycle of offending and end up in college then? Was there anybody helping you to get into college?

Iris: To get into college? No, I just did it myself. That was it.

Armande: There is no help to actually attend college, but when I was doing my community volunteering at User Voice they just helped me build on my knowledge of options for college that are available. There were specific things, like they took certain parts of my personality and parts of things, like skills I have already, and just said, "All right, you are quite good at maths", okay-

Mark Johnson: And enterprise.

Armande: Yes, maths and enterprise-IT software engineering. They said, "Boom, that’s for you", and I love it. Maths is just something I like to do, so I actually switched my course from business to software and IT development.

Q79 Chris Evans: Do you think having some goal in life or something to look forward to stops you from being dragged back into your old life?

Armande: It is not really a goal. It is more selfsatisfaction, because the main thing we do is to help people and that feels good.

Andretti: You need a goal and the willingness to change for the better. You need to be able to want to change. You can’t just say, "All right, I am going to change." You need to be able to want to. There should be more jobs available for exoffenders. I have been out for over two years and I could not get a job because I always had to show my CRB. I don’t know. They’d labelled me already. From when I have showed them that I have a criminal conviction and then they ask what you have done and you have to send your CRB, from when they see that, I personally think that they have labelled you already as some robber, knife-holding bad sort of person. They have not even seen you yet. They don’t know me; they don’t know how I have come, how I have transformed. It is just, no, I don’t get the job. For two years that went on. It was really hard for me because I was really struggling. I’ve got a baby on the way, I can’t get a job, and it was so easy for me to just go back to my old life just like that. But it’s just how I am; other people would not maybe have been so strong. Most of my friends, my friends that I went to jail with, we all come out together and every single one of them is back in. I am the only one that is out and it is just looking at it like-

Q80 Chris Evans: It is willpower in your case then. What about you, Iris?

Iris: Can you repeat the question, please?

Q81 Chris Evans: Sure. Having something to look forward to, some sort of goal, do you think that has stopped you?

Iris: In life?

Q82 Chris Evans: Yes. Something that stops you being sucked back into your old life then.

Iris: It is all good when you aspire to be something at the end of the day. I am not saying if you are weak-minded, but if you haven’t got enough support around you to actually get you towards where you want to be, it’s not-I can’t explain. You’re not going to do it, especially if you have been through what you have been through, at the end of the day. You can aspire; you can try; you can go to your courses; you can go to your classes, but there are days where you do feel as if you want to give up. If you haven’t got that support or that person on the side that will tell you, "Yes, keep going", you are just going to fall back to your old ways if you’re not strong enough.

Q83 Chair: What you are saying has prompted a question in my mind, which is that Andretti said, and you have probably all said, you need to want to change; you have to be committed to changing. Are you exceptional people who have sensed that you need to change and therefore you have made a big effort and you have encountered all the difficulties you have talked about, or could most of the people you have come across who have gone through the criminal justice system make the change if they got the help?

Armande: Definitely, 100%. They can if they want it.

Mark Johnson: I call it the teachable moment. I heard it from a facial injuries surgeon in Glasgow, who said that the teachable moment for a lot of violent crime is when they are in the casualty room, when the adrenalin goes and they are ready to talk and they are ready to respond. Through the system, that opportunity is missed often. Somebody might have the willingness to change but then they have to wait two weeks or three weeks to see a YOT worker, who does not provide the appropriate help. The opportunity is missed, and then you get to the point beyond help of saying, "Well, I might as well go back. All my friends are doing it. I can’t go forward because I have a life sentence by instalments through the stigma that is attached to having a CRB." That is as young as 10 years old. That label, that black mark, can stop with you for life.

Q84 Chair: Andretti, do you think that most of the people you met in prison, if they got the right opportunity at the right stage, could make the change?

Andretti: Yes. It is just that there is not a lot of opportunity. When we were in jail we didn’t know-there was no one coming to us and telling us about any sort of opportunities on the outside and no one coming to us and telling us that you can change. Mark and them go into jail and speak and talk about their life and how they have changed. We didn’t get none of that. It was just simply that we are the convicts; they are the guvs. "If you cross us, you are getting nicked again." It wasn’t a good experience.

Q85 Chair: Iris, do you want to add anything?

Iris: Can you repeat the question, please?

Q86 Chair: It was really asking about whether you met other people you think could have made the change if they had been given the opportunity or whether it is just a few people who can really do what you have done?

Iris: Really and truly it is half and half because there are a lot of people that are strong-minded and can make the change for themselves and they don’t really need that much of an opportunity. Then there are other people that are on the edge, they can do it, but they just need that little push, and if they are given the opportunity then they can change. So it is different for everyone. It’s not the same.

Q87 Mr Llwyd: I would like to ask Mark this, although having heard evidence from the three of you it could be any one of you in fact if you want to chip in. The youth justice system has changed a lot in the last 20 years and we are hoping it is going in the right direction, but what would you say are the main barriers to change? Perhaps I will start with Mark and, if anybody else wants to chip in, please do so.

Mark Johnson: From my view of work in the field, one is that it is commendable what the YJB have done. We work quite closely with them and the reduction in numbers of people getting in trouble. For me, the conversation needs to take place outside justice for things to change further. That is, there is a clear journey between problematic families, dysfunctional family environments, to school exclusion, to entering what I call "no man’s land", where there is no help available, there is massive budget reduction in prevention work over this last 18 months, and people have to get into the justice system to come into contact with any kind of help. I think we need to join up the dots and start to address it, take it outside justice and stop that label of a criminal just to access help.

As a whole, with regard to a huge majority of the young people that we meet-this is just a snapshot of locally based people-with all the range of difficulties, I would say that such a large percentage of those problems can be addressed outside the justice system. That is where it needs to go. The justice needs to be taken off and it should be put into more of wellbeing and in the health environment-emotional health.

Q88 Mr Llwyd: To sum it up, what we are saying is early intervention-get all the agencies talking to each other.

Mark Johnson: Yes, absolutely.

Chair: Thank you very much indeed. We are very grateful to you for coming in this morning, the time you have spent with us and for the frankness with which you have told us about how you coped with things. We wish you all the very best for the future and hope you can achieve the objectives you have set for yourselves and perhaps even more in the future. Thank you very much.

Prepared 5th July 2012