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UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE
To be published as HC 339-ii
House of COMMONS
TAKEN BEFORE the
tuesday 10 July 2012
Gareth Jones, Paul O'Hara and Wendy Poynton
Steve Crocker, John Bache and Assistant chief constable kevin Wilkins
Evidence heard in Public Questions 89 - 181
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Taken before the Justice Committee
on Tuesday 10 July 2012
Sir Alan Beith (Chair)
Mr Robert Buckland
Mr Elfyn Llwyd
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Gareth Jones, Vice-Chair, Association of Youth Offending Team Managers, Paul O'Hara, Manager, Bradford Youth Offending Team, and Wendy Poynton, Head, Leicestershire Youth Offending Service, gave evidence.
Q89 Chair: Welcome. We are delighted that you have come to help us with our work on youth justice, of which you all have significant experience-Ms Poynton as manager of the Leicestershire youth offending service, Mr Jones as vice-chair of the Association of Youth Offending Team Managers, and Mr O’Hara as manager of the Bradford youth offending team. We really appreciate your spending time to be with us this morning.
Just by way of starting, could I put this to you, which you must have thought about often? It is put to us that many children who end up in the youth justice system are falling into that system unnecessarily because other services have not given them the support that they need. Is that the case?
Wendy Poynton: I am Wendy Poynton, head of the Leicestershire youth offending service. It is well known, I think, that young people who arrive in the youth justice system require significant levels of support. Certainly, our local analysis is that they arrive with high levels of need in relation to a whole range of issues, which you will be aware of. The underlying factors that increase the risk of offending clearly need to be addressed as early as possible. There is significant national evidence that early intervention is effective, and is the best way to prevent offending and to improve other outcomes for children. That has certainly been our experience in Leicestershire.
Our experience in Leicestershire is that support for children at an early stage is improving. We have reduced first-time offending by children and young people by almost 70% over a five-year period. That is partly as a result of our close work with the police. It was one of the first forces in the country to use community disposals. Also, it is definitely a result of the early intervention services that are delivered by our children and young people’s services and by the youth offending service, which keep people out of the system. We have undertaken a number of works in conjunction with children’s services and other agencies to reduce offending. Although those who end up in the youth justice system have significant levels of need, many of them are already known and have received support from other services, but sometimes that support may not have been effective in all cases, and some young people are less easy to help. Certainly, more than 25% of cases that have been through the courts involve children in care, so they have already received high levels of support.
Q90 Chair: Does anyone want to add to that? You do not have to do so.
Gareth Jones: The simple answer is yes, particularly when you look at the more serious offences further down the line, and particularly if there has been a serious incident or a serious case review, or even a safeguarding issue. You can frequently find big gaps early on in dealings with the various authorities and young people and families, but it is a lot better than it was and I echo what Wendy says. For instance, the Cheshire police-the force that covers the area where I am head of service-takes the very clear view that children are children first, as well as offenders. That is an incredibly important response. With some very low-level offences, they are looking at what support can be given to children as well as what disposals can be given, and that should be using the services that are already out there.
Q91 Chair: Are youth offending teams able to relate to the Troubled Families programme? How is that going to fit in?
Gareth Jones: Absolutely. Talking to colleagues around the country-I know that Paul will come in on this in a second-it is clear that there is obviously a huge overlap. In the case of something like 80% or 90% of the families in my area that we have identified with local partners, the youth offending service either already knows them, or knows the older child or whatever. There are connections, and there is a massive overlap.
Paul O'Hara: In relation to the first question, it is worth bringing to the Committee’s attention that there has been a huge shift in the age profile of offenders that we are now dealing with, and that the majority of offenders in Bradford-I am sure that that is reflected elsewhere and by my colleagues-are really 15, 16 or 17.
Q92 Chair: That is a shift from what?
Paul O'Hara: Previously, it would have been 13, 14 and 15.
Q93 Chair: So it is an upward shift?
Paul O'Hara: Yes, it is an upward shift. That reflects the fact that there is some very positive work going on. The challenge for us now is, in particular, how we address issues around leaving school, and the transition from leaving school to go to college or into training or employment. There have been some big shifts, so I believe that some of the preventative work has been successful, but that is not to say that we could not or should not do more.
In relation to your questions about Troubled Families, I have recently been appointed as the Troubled Families co-ordinator for Bradford, and I also have strategic responsibility for the YOT. I see this as being a very powerful initiative to tackle families in the whole, and to work out different ways of trying to break the intergenerational cycle, and also-which is probably very different from how we operate at the moment-looking at the whole family, and looking at the younger siblings, and trying to ensure that they are not the next generation that gets into trouble or has very poor outcomes. There are some big opportunities for YOTs to work alongside this new initiative.
Wendy Poynton: I echo what my colleague Paul has said. I feel very positive about the Troubled Families programme. It should reduce the need for duplication. We find that there is quite a lot of information. At the moment, families receive multiple service interventions that are often targeted at individuals within the family, or at short-term interventions, but they do not tackle the underlying needs. There is a good opportunity here, as Paul said, for the Troubled Families agenda to look at the needs of the whole family. From our point of view, we in Leicestershire are looking at having a team around the family with a dedicated family support worker; and the youth offending service will become part of that team around the family. It is a good opportunity for youth offending services to tackle those wider needs.
Q94 Chair: Is the relatively low age of criminal responsibility in England and Wales significant, or has the kind of intervention that we engage in developed to suit the age level without being particularly affected by the fact that we formally treat young offenders as criminals at an earlier age than other societies do?
Gareth Jones: The concept of prosecuting primary school children, which we can and occasionally do, is quite a harsh one. The good thing, though, is that we do that very little these days. The number of 10 and 11-year-olds on our books has plummeted. It was never a huge number, but it is much lower now, and that is because the various agencies take a slightly different view than they used to.
In 2005-06, the police were very diligent in terms of offences brought to justice and essential protections; if something happened, there had to be an outcome for their computers. The move away from that to looking at the individual circumstances of what has happened, and what is best for the child and what is best for the victim-that has had a huge benefit. However, I and the members of my association tend to feel that before prosecuting 10, 12 or even 14-year-olds, you should be looking at the individuals themselves and their levels of maturity, because one 10-year-old is very much different from another. We have the same discussions at the other age range, on the transfer to the probation services at the age of 18 or 19. We know of some 21-year olds who, in street terminology, are not with it, but there are also some very sharp 16-year-olds. There should be fewer distinct delineations and much more about assessments, so that someone will have looked at the entirety before decisions are made on prosecution.
Q95 Mr Buckland: That leads neatly on to the next topic, which is diversion and the work that has gone on to divert young people away from the system. It is sometimes called early intervention. It means many things to many people, but I shall use that term so that we all know where we are.
There has been a change, has there not, in the way that early intervention has been funded? The position now is that you have to apply directly to the DFE for a grant. In your experience, how successful have YOTs been in obtaining that different source of funding?
Gareth Jones: Do you mean the early intervention grant?
Mr Buckland: Yes.
Gareth Jones: To my knowledge, most YOTs have been completely and utterly taken out of that loop. The money has gone directly to local authorities. Where local authorities have a strong view on prevention-I serve two local authorities, and fortunately both do-that money has been diverted into prevention projects that we would agree with, such as family support intervention, targeted youth work and those sorts of things. In terms of the discussions that we had with youth offending services on the early intervention grant, nationally it has been very little-it has been money that has just been diverted away. Again, my colleagues may have a different view, but that is what I am picking up from around the country.
Wendy Poynton: In Leicestershire, we are particularly lucky because we have attracted funding of about £100,000 from our early intervention grant, and it does fund prevention workers. We experienced a reduction two years ago of 21% in our youth justice grant, so that was very welcome.
The difficulty with YOTs is that they have to provide statutory services, and prevention services are inevitably more at risk from those funding cuts. Again, we have been lucky in Leicestershire, because the local authority has provided us with some transitional funding on the basis of the strength of our prevention arrangements; but that funding will end soon, and I am worried as to what will happen next. We do not know the future of the early intervention grant. We are likely to receive a further reduction in the youth justice grant, and I am worried that that will impact on prevention services.
The light at the end of the tunnel for me is that the Youth Justice Board is currently looking at revising the grant formula. At the moment, there are certain local authorities that can attract additional funding, but Leicestershire is not one of them; however, the Youth Justice Board is looking to applying a fairer formula across the country. The indications are that we might be able to gain from that redistribution formula and therefore be able to continue some of those services, but that remains to be announced.
Paul O'Hara: The Committee is quite right, in that there has been change in the funding, and the ring-fencing has now been removed. The challenge for YOTs has been how to gain local and political support from the Children’s Trust and from elected members around this agenda.
I can talk only about our experience in Bradford. Early prevention is quite a key part of the Children’s Trust agenda, and because of that I have secured a similar amount of funding from the early intervention grant. We have now established restorative justice clinics across the city as an arrest diversion-that is strongly supported by the West Yorkshire police-and parents are given an option of whether they wish their child to be formally cautioned, given a police reprimand or made to attend a restorative justice clinic. I have parents queuing outside these clinics who are desperate for an opportunity for their children to be given another chance. To date-it is still early days-we have had a 90% success rate, with a very high level of satisfaction and a high level of involvement from victims. The whole process for us is working well. I would hope that the local evidence of support is enough to sustain the funding in the longer term, but that is always a challenge.
Q96 Mr Buckland: I am very supportive of restorative justice methods. You give a success rate. Do you mean successful resolutions?
Paul O'Hara: We have a high level of victims attending, and to date-we have been going for six to nine months-90% of young people have not been re-arrested by the police.
Q97 Mr Buckland: That is a measure of success. Is that re-arrests within a particular period?
Paul O'Hara: Since it started. It is still early days, but it is very promising. That is what I am expecting the process to deliver. If it is not delivering a 90% success rate, I will be very disappointed. The parental feedback has been positive, and the police are supportive of it because it means that police officers’ time on the streets has not been removed by the processing of offenders through the system.
Wendy Poynton: In Leicestershire, we have had a project that has delivered restorative justice training and approaches in our children’s homes-I know that this has happened elsewhere in the country as well-and this has been independently validated by one of our local universities. It has reduced the level of offending in children’s homes by about 50%; it has dramatically reduced police call-outs; it has dramatically reduced assaults on police and residential staff; and it has also improved the atmosphere in children’s homes and reduced the cost of damage to children’s homes. We have a lot of very positive outcomes. It is worth saying that restorative justice as a principle is applied throughout the youth justice system through the referral panels, and that is one of its great successes.
Q98 Mr Buckland: Sadly, a common source of youth crime is disputes between schoolchildren, which usually arise out of something that has happened in school. Are you working with schools in order to spread restorative justice techniques in the school environment?
Paul O'Hara: I am sure that West Yorkshire police, along with other forces, has taken on board the police officers in school agenda, and that has been hugely successful. We strongly support it, and the schools view it so positively that they also invest in it: these police officers are part funded. As my colleague rightly said, we have seen big reductions through addressing that, and also by addressing bullying, which is a related agenda. Young people are feeling safer in schools, and that is really important.
Q99 Mr Buckland: The voluntary sector obviously has a key role to play, and there are good examples of voluntary organisations. I have one in Swindon that does a lot of mentoring and self-help, and it often gets referrals from our youth offending team.
Among the evidence given to the Committee was a submission from the Centre for Social Justice. It talked of a better way of involving the voluntary sector, by removing the responsibility from YOTs for the delivering and commissioning of preventive services-in its view, YOTs should have a predominantly criminal justice focus-as a way of trying to avoid duplication and of bringing in the voluntary sector. What would be your view of the way in which you commission services? Would that be the right approach?
Gareth Jones: The way that services should be commissioned, in terms of the prevention of youth crime, should be an issue predominantly for local children’s partnerships in local authority areas, including the third and voluntary sectors. We should include youth offending services, and of course the incoming police and crime commissioners. One of our concerns is that the police and crime commissioners will be receiving a sizeable portion of our current YOT money, and they may choose not to spend it on those issues that we have described today, such as outreach work, early intervention and restorative justice.
The voluntary sector has a huge part to play. In my local area, we have some very good relationships with various other groups. One of their concerns is this. Some of them will say, "All we want to do is to work with families and young people. We don’t want to commission. We don’t want to be part of this. We are a small charity. Actually, there is only so much we can do." That type of approach, with the voluntary sector being part of the commissioning, means that, if you are not careful, the larger national organisations will benefit and not necessarily those organisations that are actually delivering. It does not always follow, but if you are making big bids, there is an art and a science and a craft to it; people are employed to write bids, and if you are small charity you do not have access to that.
Chair: We ought to move on, otherwise we will not cover all the ground we want to cover.
Q100 Ben Gummer: Has the number of new entrants into the Leicestershire YOT over the last two years gone up or down?
Wendy Poynton: It has gone down.
Q101 Ben Gummer: By how much has it gone down?
Wendy Poynton: It has gone down by about 68% over a five-year period. In 2005-06 we had 1,285. I did not bring the latest year’s figures with me, but in 2010-11 we had about 420 first-time entrants. The number has gone down again this year to 300 and something; if you want the figure, I can supply it. The number continues to go down; we thought that it would plateau at some point, but it has continued to go down.
Q102 Ben Gummer: That is very impressive. What has been the reduction in your funding over the same period?
Wendy Poynton: That is quite complicated. We had a reduction in the youth justice grant of about 21%, but at the same time, because of its confidence in the work that we were doing, our local authority provided us with £200,000 a year to enable us to mitigate the effects of the reduction; the reduction has been met by the local authority, but on a short-term basis. In effect, we have been delivering with the same amount of funding, because the local authority stepped in to meet the costs of the reduction in the youth justice grant.
Q103 Ben Gummer: In real terms over those five years, you have had no total reduction in your funding, if you add together the two grants that you receive-the local authority and the youth justice grants.
Wendy Poynton: There has been a small overall reduction.
Q104 Ben Gummer: Of what order?
Wendy Poynton: I do not have that figure with me. It is quite complicated to work out, because at the same time we had the reduction in the grant, we took over some additional responsibilities for intensive supervision and surveillance. That provided an increase in work, so I am not quite able to compare like with like.
Q105 Ben Gummer: I understand. You have had a massive reduction in new entrants of 68%. Given that your funding has not reduced enormously and that you have not reduced the head count enormously, I take it that you have fewer new entrants and less case work. Would that be roughly right?
Wendy Poynton: Yes.
Q106 Ben Gummer: Mr O’Hara, are there similar figures for your area in the past five years?
Paul O'Hara: Yes, we have had a budget reduction. You are quite right, the number of first-time entrants has gone down.
Q107 Ben Gummer: By how much?
Paul O'Hara: Last year, year on year there was a 25% reduction.
Q108 Ben Gummer: Since when?
Paul O'Hara: Since 2011, as compared with 2010.
Q109 Ben Gummer: That is very impressive. Do you have figures for the five-year period?
Paul O'Hara: As my colleague said, over five years it is 70%. That is a significant reduction. The knock-on effect-
Q110 Ben Gummer: Before we move on, what has been the reduction in budget over that five years-your total gross budget?
Paul O'Hara: I cannot answer that with any confidence. There have been budget reductions in grants from the police, from the council and from my Youth Justice Board, but at the same time we have had additional funding, in that we managed to keep the early intervention grant and we managed to get an investment from the YJB custody pathfinder.
Q111 Ben Gummer: Was the budget reduction of a minor amount?
Paul O'Hara: Yes.
Q112 Ben Gummer: Given that this is not about increasing funds during the period but about slightly reducing them, and that you have achieved these extraordinary reductions, to what do you attribute those reductions?
Gareth Jones: There are significant reductions for some YOTs-
Q113 Ben Gummer: I am sorry; I am asking the other two witnesses.
Paul O'Hara: The reduction is the result of changing the targets for the police around sanction and detection; it is also around positive work, prevention, broader engagement, the safer schools partnership and the prevention work that we funded. There is a clear recognition across children’s services of how important it is to keep young people not offending. At the same time, the youth offending team in Bradford is very active in addressing antisocial behaviour because of concerns from the public that, although we might be reducing first-time entrants, the young people on the estates are not committing offences but instead are being a nuisance in their communities.
Ben Gummer: Absolutely.
Paul O'Hara: We are trying to address that issue as well, through our preventative work.
Q114 Ben Gummer: I am not cutting you off, Mr O’Hara, as I know that other Members will ask about that in greater detail.
Mr Jones, given that there self-evidently seems to be a better targeting of resources with really impressive reductions, what do you have to fear from the police and crime commissioner? This seems to be a story that sells itself.
Gareth Jones: That all depends on who the PCC is. At our local level, with my local YOT, we have got some good evidence to show what we are doing and how it works, and that is against a backdrop of a cut in funds of about 30% in the time period that you are talking about. We have also achieved a 66% reduction in first-time entrants since 2006.
We have some very good stories to tell, but the concern for me is that rather than the old adage of "if it’s not broken, don’t fix it", we now have to convince yet another virtually totally independent individual, and we don’t know who it is going to be. They may be very sensible and they may not; we don’t know.
Q115 Ben Gummer: It depends on the public.
Gareth Jones: I am afraid that it depends on the politician who gets elected.
Q116 Ben Gummer: It depends on the voters
Gareth Jones: That is the other way of looking at it. We are concerned locally that there may be a low turnout, which may favour some more fringe type of candidate. Who knows?
When you are trying to plan a service over the next two or three years, with such a significant variable as that, it is virtually impossible. For instance, if I have to lay off workers I have to give them at least three months’ notice. The PCC arrives in November, and if I do not know whether they are going to withdraw my drug services and my prevention services-that is what could happen-not only will I not get the money and not have the services, but it will cost me more money to lay people off. We have the same problem on budgeting, in terms of the youth justice grant. If we find out before Christmas this year, we will do extremely well; last year, it was the middle of February.
Q117 Ben Gummer: That is completely understandable. May I ask one further question? Some people have said in written evidence to us that the multi-agency nature of the YOT is beginning to break down under financial pressure in some areas. Do have any experience of that happening in your areas, with agencies pulling workers from the teams?
Wendy Poynton: In Leicestershire, we have been quite lucky in that the partner agencies have, in the main, continued to maintain their contributions. There have been some small reductions, in the order of 1% or 2%. We have seen some reductions. We have had some staff withdrawn from our education, training and employment services, which is a concern, and we have lost one of our Connexions personal advisers; we had two.
The significant loss of funding being experienced by local authorities as a result of the academies agenda is also putting children’s services under pressure, and they have had to reduce funding to a range of activities, including reducing the number of education officers from two to one. In other respects, we are having services maintained. The other partner agencies are continuing to contribute; we have a high level of strategic support for the youth offending service, and we are looking jointly at how to overcome some of those losses.
Paul O'Hara: Locally, we are viewed as a service that delivers. We have therefore managed over the years to maintain the support and the financial backing of our partners. Clearly, with the new police and crime commissioners, there is a job to be done selling the value of our work. We are a partnership and we are dependent on the support of the partnerships; although that varies from place to place, locally it is very strong.
Q118 Ben Gummer: So you have not lost any team members?
Paul O'Hara: No.
Q119 Jeremy Corbyn: My question is addressed to Mr O’Hara. What have been the main challenges in setting up the West Yorkshire custody investment programme?
Paul O'Hara: West Yorkshire is one of the four national pathfinders around reducing custody. Setting up was fairly easy in West Yorkshire. We have a long track record of working collaboratively, because we align with the police boundaries, and we have run various contracts arrangements before, so the ability for us to come together, agree processes and then negotiate them nationally was not a particularly difficult initiative. West Yorkshire’s chief executives have supported West Yorkshire becoming one of the resettlement pathfinders, supported by the YJB, so this activity was viewed very positively, and has a lot of local support. In that sense, it was not a difficult thing for us to achieve. The difficult thing, I suppose, was bidding against other areas to be chosen, and then turning our ideas into practice and service delivery, and achieving the outcomes.
Q120 Jeremy Corbyn: Are you yet in a position to give any idea of the value or otherwise of it, or of the outcomes from it?
Paul O'Hara: I can certainly comment on the West Yorkshire experience. We are nine months in, and we have a target to reduce custody based on bed-nights-a bit like a hotel; if you stay in a hotel then you are charged for it.
Q121 Jeremy Corbyn: I would not go using words like "hotel" because the media might pick it up and fundamentally misunderstand you.
Paul O'Hara: I am sorry about that. Against a 10% reduction in target, West Yorkshire has in the first nine months achieved a 23% reduction. That is 13% over target.
Q122 Jeremy Corbyn: Where there has been a reduction in the number of nights taken in custody, so to speak, have you begun to measure any effect on re-offending or other problems as a result?
Paul O'Hara: We track our re-offending rate, but that is based on 12 months, so the impact would not necessarily flow through. We have identified through this process that the main reason young people were being sent to custody was not for robbery, burglary or violent crime, but for breach of community sentence. That then raises the question of why we are not doing better with young people who are sentenced by the courts to a community sentence, and why we cannot engage with them and be more effective in stopping them being sentenced to custody. The main focus of our activity has been to improve engagement with those young people and to prevent them from being sentenced to custody for failing to co-operate.
Q123 Jeremy Corbyn: How do you do that?
Paul O'Hara: We have done that across the board, by looking at our programmes and by looking at staff motivation. We discovered that some staff breached young people a lot; some went the extra mile and supported young people on their order. It is about getting staff to engage in more outreach work. We have introduced better family engagement, we have introduced compliance panels and we have a very big focus around accommodation. Those things are starting to deliver some key improvements.
We had a process whereby if young people turned up late for their appointments, they were sent home because they had not turned up on time. We have now changed our service so that if people turn up late for a session, they are immediately taken out to do litter picking. I can tell you that, after two doses of litter picking, they turn up on time. So, by a fairly small tweaking of the way that we do our business, we have improved engagement.
Q124 Jeremy Corbyn: My final question is this. Do you have a system whereby you talk to young people towards the end of their relationship with you about their experiences and their hopes, and ask for their advice on how the system might work better? Some young people come out of this infinitely better and do okay, and surely we can all learn something from them. Do you have a system for doing that?
Paul O'Hara: Yes, we do. We gain feedback both from the young people and their parents. We regularly get feedback on the views of young people through a computer questionnaire, which is specifically designed to do that. We get that in both ways.
Fairly key to what we are doing is to try to signpost young people into young people’s services. Obviously, once we have finished working with them, not all their issues will have been resolved. We want to support them in those activities and give them a bridge so that they can receive support if they require it. That is where the voluntary sector can play a big part in how we make a difference.
Q125 Mr Llwyd: You will be well aware of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, in which custody is explicitly stated as a last resort. None the less, the number of youngsters under lock and key in the UK is unfortunately extremely high compared, for instance, with Scandinavian countries and Italy. However, there has been a substantial downturn of late, which is welcome. What do you think are the main reasons for the reduction in the number of young people in custody? My understanding is that there are about a third fewer since 2008. How can these reductions be sustained?
Wendy Poynton: There are a number of reasons for the reduction in the number of young people in custody. The first is that youth offending teams have been successful in reducing re-offending and in reducing first-time entrants, so the number of young people going through the system and into court has been reduced. Secondly, YOTs have been very successful in providing programmes of intervention that are effective, and that also provide robust alternatives to custody in which the courts have confidence. Over the years, experience in providing those programmes has increased. In Leicestershire, as in many other parts of the country, we have some really positive relationships with our magistrates. The magistrates trust the proposals that we make in court reports; they trust the alternatives that we propose; and they, too, use custody as a last resort. All those factors help to contribute.
Gareth Jones: That is true in some parts of the country, but the picture is not quite as rosy in other parts. We have certainly seen hugely different rates in custodial sentences across the country. Lack of confidence in sentencing might be one of the reasons. The introduction of the youth rehabilitation order, with its various conditions and its much more customised approach to the type of sentence that magistrates, in particular, can impose, has been very useful.
Dialogue between youth offending services and local sentencing is also extremely important. We have had magistrates coming to see some of the decision-making processes that our workers do on a daily basis, and they have been absolutely astounded at the types of issue that we have to deal with-particularly on decisions about whether or not to breach, taking Paul’s earlier point. We regard it as a major failure if a young person ends up in custody for the breach of an order, and we have had one this year. Each one of these cases comes to my attention, and this was the third breach, but it was almost as if the magistrates were bending over backwards as well. However, there comes a time when you do not do the young person any favours by saying, "This is your last chance." There sometimes has to be a last occasion.
We have a major concern that young people around the country might be treated, certainly for more serious offences, as offenders first rather than young people. I have an example in my area of a young person who was sentenced to six months in custody for being a gardener in a cannabis farm. This was a 15-year-old Vietnamese boy. I cannot understand for the life of me how anyone could have regarded him as anything other than a victim. If he had been found in a brothel, for instance, very clearly, he would have been regarded as a victim of child sexual exploitation, and the people who put him in the cannabis farm are the same type of people. I am convinced that that was because there was no advice, for instance, from a specialist youth prosecutor. The police officers regarded it as a serious offence rather than saying, "We have a child who needs some protection."
Although I have no evidence whatsoever for this-this is purely speculation-I think that the courts thought that the boy would be better off in custody than out on the streets, even though he had been taken into public care-he was a looked-after child. When you have those sorts of scenarios, you can still end up with the youth custody estate being used for called non-judicial reasons-I think that is the best way of putting it.
Q126 Mr Llwyd: You mentioned earlier that there are wide discrepancies in the rates of imposition of custody throughout the UK. That applies also in adult courts, does it not?
Gareth Jones: Yes, it does.
Q127 Mr Llwyd: Is there an inevitability about it, with local justice meaning justice delivered locally, or is it that we have not yet been able to ensure a sufficiently good service, YOT cover, for the whole of the UK?
Gareth Jones: It is more the former than the latter. Over the years, YOTs and their partners have been one of the major successes of a revamped public system. It is not only YOTs that are delivering these results, it is the wider partnerships. The focus has changed completely from the pre-Audit Commission report Misspent Youth of 1996. It is a completely different world and very successful, but within it we still have local anomalies. I worked in courts many years ago as a probation officer, and lawyers would come to see who was sitting on the bench, and they would do their damndest to get the case moved to a different bench, because one bench would impose custody and the other would not. I am sure that that still goes on, and that is probably more of an issue than inconsistencies, or lack of confidence, in youth justice service.
Q128 Mr Llwyd: That links to my next question. We have heard some criticism of the quality of pre-sentence reports. Do you think, by and large, that we are well served-as an ex-probation officer, you may have a definite view on the matter-in terms of pre-sentence reports?
Gareth Jones: In some ways you might be better asking the subsequent witness from the Magistrates Association. One of the things that we do locally, as part of our quality assurance, is to ask magistrates to comment on every single report, and if a report is not helpful or is felt to be poor or badly written or whatever, we can do something about it. Those notices come to my attention. I have had one in three years that said a report was not very good, but when I looked at it I thought that the magistrate just did not like what it said rather than it not being very good, which is a different matter. People are entitled to their opinions because, after all, opinions do matter. My understanding is that, across the country, with the various quality controls that YOTs have as a matter of course-controls that did not necessarily exist in the old youth justice service-pre-sentence reports have improved immeasurably. That is my view, and it is an opinion.
Wendy Poynton: We get very positive feedback from our magistrates in Leicestershire on the quality of pre-sentence reports. We take feedback, but there may be variations across the country.
Q129 Mr Llwyd: My question was not slanted, as it were, and I did not mean any personal criticism. I am a great respecter of the Probation Service and what it does, but we have heard some rumblings about discontent.
Gareth Jones: On average, just to help, a pre-sentence report prepared by a youth justice professional will have taken at least three times as long to prepare as one prepared on an adult because of the various things that have to be covered. By definition, they are much more thorough.
Q130 Steve Brine: Finally, in the time that we have left, I have a question for Wendy and Paul, but I am interested also in Gareth’s comments. A few weeks ago, we had some young people come to give evidence; they were from an organisation called User Voice. I shall read from one of those young people, although they all said it and others had said it to me before. "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 anything about my life or where I am coming from. I don’t know anything about your life or where you’re coming from, so we’re not going to see eye to eye…I needed someone that was more like me, that has been on the path that I was taking." That is a really interesting point.
Wendy, would care to comment first on the staff, and why young people coming to YOTs may feel respect for your colleagues-there is no doubt about that; it was prevalent-but do not feel any connection with them. Is that a problem?
Wendy Poynton: It is not a problem in Leicestershire. We recently had a core case inspection completed by HMIP, and as part of that there was a questionnaire for children and young people. Sixty-nine children and young people responded to that, and all but two of those who needed help said that, after they had asked, the staff took action to deal with the things that they needed help with. More than half said that they had received help in making better decisions; more than half said that they had received help in understanding their offending; and more than half said that that the YOTs had helped them with their schooling or getting a job.
We also completed a local survey, and 97% of the 202 young people who responded said that they were not likely to offend or re-offend as a result of the intervention; 91% said that they had seen an improvement in their lives. That suggests to me that they are getting good service. Clearly, some of them go on to offend, but that survey shows their feelings at the end of an order. The staff that we appoint are recruited specifically for their skills in working with young people, and we provide a good training package. They are very skilled at working alongside young people and motivating them. What I have said provides some evidence that our staff are being helpful.
In Leicestershire we also have peer mentors. We recruit young people who have been through the system and train them so that they can provide mentoring to other young people. That is proving to be very positive and helpful, and our young people like that. There is a point to it, in that young people need somebody to work alongside them. Sometimes that is appropriate, but sometimes they need professional help, and our experience is that they provide very positive feedback about their YOT officers. We like to think that we train them well and that they have good experience and skills in getting alongside young people. We also use over 200 community volunteers, who provide voluntary interventions, and they come from all walks of life, and from all kinds of situations. We try to match the volunteer with the young person so that the young person gets the type of volunteer who can most ably assist them. We have many ways of overcoming that issue.
Q131 Steve Brine: Mr O’Hara, a brief question, because I know that the Chair wants to move on. Do you have peer mentors in Bradford?
Paul O'Hara: We do have peer mentors, and we work with the voluntary sector around that provision. At the end of the day, however, we have no magic wands. We rely on the skills of our staff.
I have read the report from the young people, and for those who did not feel that they were being listened to, it is a problem. Unless our staff can communicate with these young people, they are no good working in this area of work, because that is crucial. The real challenge is how to find the right moment, the right time, when a young person is ready to change, and getting the staff to be skilled in that. Some of these young people do not want to do what we ask them to do; they do not want to comply, they just want to lead their own lives. Very occasionally, however, it is about recognising that at a certain point they are ready to change. That is the skill that we have to get. We have to try to become very motivated and to get our staff motivated to recognise that. That is the challenge. That is not to say that we do not need to do more work.
One of the advantages of us reducing first-time entrants is that staff have more time to spend with the young people. That is the key, because the young people we are working with have more complex issues and more challenges. What they need, which they often have not had before, is to be given time with a positive adult to show attention to them and to help guide them. That is what most of our staff do.
Chair: Thank you very much indeed. We have some more witnesses to hear this morning and although we could spend more time learning from your experiences, we must also learn from theirs. We are very grateful to you all.
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Steve Crocker, Association of Directors of Children’s Services, John Bache, Chairman, Youth Courts Committee, Magistrates Association, and Assistant Chief Constable Kevin Wilkins, Association of Chief Police Officers, gave evidence.
Chair: Welcome to Assistant Chief Constable Kevin Wilkins, to Mr Bache, chairman of the Youth Courts Committee of the Magistrates Association, and to Mr Crocker of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services. Mr Wilkins, of course, is the ACPO lead on these issues. I ask Mr Gummer to open our questions.
Q132 Ben Gummer: Mr Crocker, it is commonplace that children who enter the care system end up in the criminal justice system. The Centre for Social Justice made this specific point in its recent report. What is your response to that?
Steve Crocker: The first thing is that I have to make a declaration of interest. I was on the Centre for Social Justice working party that wrote that report.
I am not sure why we should be surprised at that, because the children that come into care have high risk factors. That is why we take them into care; they are abused, neglected, suffer from poor parenting and have had traumatic experiences. I have some recent research to hand. The university of East Anglia, along with TACT, the Fostering and Adoption charity, published a report in January 2012 entitled "Looked After Children and Offending: Reducing Risk and Promoting Resilience". I have the reference, should you need it. It identified that going into care can be a positive experience for many young people and children. Let us not forget that we take young people into care generally from a younger age. That can be beneficial in reducing those risk factors and promoting resilience. That early entrance to care, along with good foster care, for example, and subsequently adoption, can reduce the risk of offending. That is what that research showed.
We can be less effective when we have teenagers that enter the care system who have already embarked upon a road of antisocial behaviour or difficult behaviour at school. It is difficult to turn that behaviour around in the period during which we have those young people in the care system, and that is a far more problematic cohort of young people.
Q133 Ben Gummer: Is that especially the case in residential care?
Steve Crocker: Yes, but residential care is a relatively small amount. I should say that I am deputy director of children’s services in Hampshire; from Hampshire’s perspective it is less than 10%. We have 1,100 children looked after in Hampshire, and we have 75, I think, in residential care. That gives you some perspective on the numbers. It is a relatively small cohort, and the vast majority of children in care are looked after in foster care. Of course, children that go on to be adopted are no longer counted as children in care. It is a relatively small number, but often children in residential care can display some of the most challenging behaviour. That challenging behaviour is often evident before they come into care, and we try to manage that as we manage the brief of children in particular residential settings.
Q134 Ben Gummer: You are part of a well-regarded and respected children’s services department, but I wonder whether you would make a general comment across the country. Do you think that the interests of all social services departments, as they see them, are perfectly aligned with the interests of keeping children out of the criminal justice system?
Steve Crocker: There is a keen knowledge in local authority children’s services departments that having children in the criminal justice system is not beneficial for those children. We know that for them to be in the system is criminogenic in itself, so we would prefer to work with children outside it, and to ensure that they remain outside the criminal justice system.
It would be remiss of me not to say that some of the pressures on the children’s services departments which, over the last few years have primarily been around the safeguarding of children of a younger age, have led to prioritisation. That means that there may be a perception that we are not focused on those older kids, but I do not think that that is the reality of the case. We would like to ensure, wherever possible, that those children are dealt with in the most appropriate way.
Q135 Ben Gummer: May I ask the same question that I put to the YOT representatives earlier? Does anyone on the panel have any direct or anecdotal experience of people being pulled from YOT teams, from any discipline, because of funding cuts?
Steve Crocker: Undoubtedly, there will be examples of that across the country, because local authorities and their partners have had to bear budget reductions. There are limits to what one can do in terms of facing those budget challenges without reducing the number of staff. Although I cannot say that there have been particular reductions in Hampshire, I am sure that there will have been some in other authorities or other areas across the country.
Q136 Ben Gummer: But you do not know of any.
Steve Crocker: The picture is still emerging. Many YOT boards will be making decisions for the next few years. I do not have data on reductions, but I would be very surprised if there were not any, given that there has been a reduction in the YJB grant, and we know that local authorities, the police and probation services have all had to find savings.
Assistant Chief Constable Wilkins: May I follow that up from the police perspective? Two or three years ago some questions were asked about the role of the police officer in the YOT. Some forces were asking whether the officer was necessary and, in terms of the budget cuts, whether the officer could be removed. ACPO works quite closely with the Youth Justice Board, and some guidance has been set out and agreed.
There is a role for police officers in each YOT-it is actually required under statute-but the role should be more clear and specific, because officers were tending to work in more administrative roles. We tried to focus on the role of the police officer being to do with police powers and police skills. That guidance went out in November 2010, but I am not aware of a reduction of police officers in YOTs. However, I am aware of questions being asked about YOT staffing generally, Manchester being one example, where Greater Manchester police are asking questions. They have 10 YOTs in GMP, and they are asking how they can service YOTs and whether there are more efficient ways of working. Those are perfectly appropriate questions to ask, because if there is a better and more efficient way of doing things and delivering a better service, it has to be good for everybody.
Q137 Ben Gummer: You do not have any experience of police officers just being pulled out?
Assistant Chief Constable Wilkins: No. The guidance helped to stop that.
Q138 Ben Gummer: I have a final question for you all. What are the arguments in favour of giving looked-after status to all children in custody? Why has it not happened thus far?
Steve Crocker: It is an interesting situation at the moment, where the forthcoming Act-its name has escaped me-will confer looked-after status on remanded children. However, I cannot see any logic whereby it can stay just with remanded children. The logic that says that those children are vulnerable in the care of the state will apply also to sentenced children. We are slightly puzzled as to why we have only half of the children.
Q139 Ben Gummer: Have you been given any explanation?
Steve Crocker: We were not sure that that was necessarily the solution to the vulnerabilities of those children, because it imposes quite a significant additional burden, and there are also some interesting dilemmas that will occur. I shall give you one, which is that the independent reviewing officer has a duty to listen to the young person about the suitability of their placement. Many young people will say, "I don’t think I’m suited to be placed in prison." The officer will then have a duty then to take that up with Cafcass. We shall have some interesting dilemmas as a result of that piece of legislation. We are not sure whether that is the right solution, but we are certainly happy that there need to be further safeguards for vulnerable children in custody. Whether this is the right solution is up for grabs.
Q140 Elizabeth Truss: Mr Wilkins, how do you respond to concerns from the Magistrates Association that out-of-court disposals are being used too much, and that not enough decision making is taking place in court?
Assistant Chief Constable Wilkins: I have been involved in a working group with the Magistrates Association looking at a new framework for out-of-court disposals, both for adults and young people. The young people’s framework is being worked on, and should be delivered at the end of this year or early next year.
The Magistrates Association has been involved in those discussions, but decision making around magistrate court disposals is rightly one where the police would be the primary decision maker; the whole principle of out-of-court disposals, particularly on community resolutions and restorative justice, is that it is less bureaucratic and more effective. Where there is a role, perhaps, for the local criminal justice board, with or without the involvement of the Magistrates Association, is in oversight and scrutiny. That is where I would see it. Certainly in Norfolk we would report to the LCJB on the number of out-of-court disposals, so that those things are more transparent.
Q141 Elizabeth Truss: Do you feel that the police are sometimes being dragged in where they are not necessarily needed? I represent a Norfolk constituency, and I have heard of police being drawn into disputes among schoolchildren when one would have thought that things could have been dealt with by the teaching staff. Do you feel that that goes on?
Assistant Chief Constable Wilkins: Partly, but there are two elements. One is that where there are safer schools officers, particularly in high schools, a lot of that will be dealt with by the officers, effectively in conjunction with the schools. The safer schools partnerships that I have been involved in have been very effective. There is a slight quirk, in that if something is reported in a school where there is a safer schools partnership, it does not have to be recorded as a crime if it is dealt with by the school. However, if I then move across to looked-after children at a children’s home, that does have to be recorded as a crime. We are getting into all sort of bureaucracy around that, however, when the police are involved, and we are called more in children’s homes. There is more work that can be done, and is being done, around restorative justice in children’s homes, as much as it is in schools.
Q142 Elizabeth Truss: You say essentially that the safer schools partnerships are effective. Do you think that more police resource is being used than in the past to deal with situations in schools, which should arguably be the responsibility of other adult authority figures?
Assistant Chief Constable Wilkins: My view would be that police officers in schools, working alongside the teaching staff, is the right approach. Although there is a resource in schools, it is more about dealing with issues in the schools with the teaching staff. It is not just about the school community itself: it goes beyond that in terms of the trips home and the broader community. It is good preventative work, and if it can deal with things and nip them in the bud it saves on broader issues. There is a resource involvement, but it saves work further on.
Q143 Elizabeth Truss: The brought-to-justice target was dropped in 2008. Has the fact that there is no longer a target changed behaviour?
Assistant Chief Constable Wilkins: Yes. I have heard evidence previously about that. It has made a difference to police forces. As you say, the measurements pre-2008 very much focused on the sanction detections and the offences brought to justice. There were particular examples of young people being given penalty notices, because it was an easy thing to do and counted as a detection.
Of course, under the new Act, the penalty notice has gone, and ACPO certainly supported that position. Since then, we have seen an increase across most forces, if not all, in the use of restorative justice. Using Norfolk as an example, we still measure sanction detections, and our rate is about 33% or 34%, but we also count core outcomes. Where there has been a positive outcome in a case, when it has been classed as solved, it is about 41%. Just to give you an indication, there is about an 8 percentage point difference, but we are happy to stand up and be counted for that because that difference is about dealing with cases through community resolution and restorative justice with a positive outcome, particularly for young people.
Q144 Elizabeth Truss: What in your experience is most effective? We have a quotation here from a young offender saying that he felt that if he had been taken to court on the first offence he would have been deterred from crime. In your experience, does a penalty notice without anything else going on have an impact on somebody? Given the various levels of intervention, what will stop the young person going into more criminal activity?
Assistant Chief Constable Wilkins: The penalty notice was not effective, and for young people, we supported them being withdrawn. There is clear evidence that use of restorative justice, usually through community resolutions, has had a positive impact on many young people. If you look at the victim satisfaction rate and also the re-offending rates, which are lower, it has an impact. It might not work for everybody, but it does for most young people.
Q145 Elizabeth Truss: Have you seen cases where a court appearance has helped by stopping somebody in their tracks, or do you think that it just nullifies the effect?
Assistant Chief Constable Wilkins: There certainly are cases where going to court has had the ultimate effect, whatever the sentence might be, and the work that goes on around that sentence, absolutely-but it depends, case by case. Having that range of options available will make the sentence what is right for that young person.
Q146 Elizabeth Truss: What you are saying is that the police are receiving evidence about how effective they are in particular cases, and using that evidence for future decision making.
Assistant Chief Constable Wilkins: Yes.
Chair: Mr Bache, you have been very patient. I shall turn to you in a moment to get the magistrates’ perspective on this. You are not being excluded from the discussion, but I pause for a moment because a couple of people have supplementary points.
Q147 Jeremy Corbyn: Mr Wilkins, on the point that you made earlier about police intervention in disputes in schools, if I understand it correctly you are saying that the normal process is that they would be treated entirely as school incidents and not necessarily be recorded by the police and, therefore, that those involved would not get into the criminal justice system at that stage. However, the opposite appears to be the case with children’s homes. Is this something that needs to change? Do occupants of children’s homes, the children who have had some dispute, ever end up in the criminal justice system or get a police record, which is something that will follow them for the rest of their lives?
Assistant Chief Constable Wilkins: Yes. Comparing the two scenarios, with incidents in children’s homes, the police involvement there will result in a record-or certainly a recorded crime. More and more in my part of the world we are working with care managers towards restorative justice solutions for dealing with those things. There is more of a tendency, and probably there might be some rules about this from local authorities, to call the police in for disputes in children’s homes when, in a normal family home, the police would not be involved. Following that logic through, the fact that the police are called means that we have to deal with it, and because we have been called we have to record it as a crime, through the crime recording standards. We therefore have to work that through to some form of outcome.
Q148 Jeremy Corbyn: Very briefly, on the issue of the incidents in schools, what policy do you adopt in your constabulary when there is an incident outside the school gates of a secondary school, with young people getting into a dispute? In my experience, in some cases the school is prepared to deal with it as a school matter, bringing the young people back inside to try to resolve it. In other cases, they draw an absolute line at the school gates, saying that what happens after that is nothing to do with them but is a matter for the police.
Assistant Chief Constable Wilkins: In my experience, if there is a link with the school, and often that is children going home, the teachers are very happy to deal with that, with our support. In my experience, it is not: if you are beyond the gate it is a police role, and if it inside it is the school’s role. I have experienced a more grown-up approach to that.
Q149 Jeremy Corbyn: Is that general in your area?
Assistant Chief Constable Wilkins: Yes.
Q150 Ben Gummer: Mr Wilkins, I have a particular constituency issue. A very young girl a few years ago-I suspect that now she would have been dealt with by restorative justice means-got a caution for slapping someone in a playground. That came up on a deep CRB check subsequently, which precluded her from working with children. I understand that the chief constable is able, at his discretion, to strike that down, but he contends that there is still confusion from the Home Office about his ability to do so. Can you clarify that for us?
Assistant Chief Constable Wilkins: I understand that a caution is likely to be disclosed. If it was dealt with in today’s world, through a restorative justice type of intervention, and if it was a standard CRB check, I would not expect it to be disclosed. If it was an enhanced CRB check, for working with vulnerable people, it might be disclosed; the most recent guidance that I have seen is that we have a duty to disclose, but we need to look at each case and decide. It is not an absolute yes or no; it has to be decided. The duty to disclose is more to disclose than not.
Q151 Ben Gummer: On the issue of whether the chief constable can rescind the caution, I understand that we are still waiting for Home Office guidance on whether it can be done. In correspondence with me, the chief constable took a safety-first approach, assuming that disclosure was the default option.
Assistant Chief Constable Wilkins: There is more work to be done on disclosure, through the work that I was talking about on the out-of-court framework. Disclosure is a key part of the work to resolve that issue.
Q152 Chair: If, on reflection, you think that you can clarify the position, it would be helpful. Always feel free to write to us afterwards.
I now turn to Mr Bache. The Magistrates Association passed a motion saying that Parliament should change the law so that all children under 16 would appear in the youth court, whatever the offence. There is obviously quite a strong view among magistrates about this.
John Bache: There is. Before I come to that, I do not want to have any misconception that magistrates are against the idea of out-of-court disposals, because they certainly are not. The last thing that we want is for children to be criminalised if it is avoidable, as it obviously has an impact on their future employment. We are worried about the lack of transparency, and the lack of judicial oversight. We feel that the police are acting differently in some areas, within different police forces and even within one police force area. We are worried that children are sometimes being dealt with by out-of-court disposals inappropriately, particularly for crimes of violence.
Q153 Chair: Are you saying that, whenever there is an offence, the person should appear in the youth court?
John Bache: No, we are most definitely not saying that. We are saying that we are aware of some cases, particularly cases of assault, that have been dealt with as out-of-court disposals, that we feel should probably have come to court. We do not know the precise details of every case, so we feel that there should be some sort of input from the magistracy to ensure that the police are charging where necessary, and not charging if it is not necessary.
The other side of the coin, of course, is when a playground fight is brought to court. That is inappropriate and we do not want to see it happen; it is not right. At the moment, there seems to be a lack of uniformity; it is a bit of postcode lottery on how individuals are dealt with.
Q154 Chair: Could it be that some police forces are being more creative and achieving more by going down that particular road? The assumption that variation is always bad is something that I would question.
John Bache: I do not think that variation is always bad, but there needs to be transparency. There is an awful lot of concern among magistrates that there is no transparency. We do not quite know what is going on with these out-of-court disposals. We hear rumours that cases have been dealt with inappropriately. If we had some sort of access to the actual facts, hopefully we could be reassured that they were appropriate.
Q155 Chair: By listing all cases, or simply making clear what the policy was?
John Bache: It would be individual cases. Certainly, the police that I have had contact with have been very open about the policy, but it is when we come down to individual cases that we need to have the facts on why a particular decision was made. In a way, we are representing the public, and the public are unsure exactly what is going on with out-of-court disposals. They are concerned, and the magistrates could represent the public by having some sort of input and direct contact with the police, who could explain why they are making particular decisions.
Q156 Chair: Would ACPO have any difficulty with the idea of what might, I suppose, be a kind of review of cases?
Assistant Chief Constable Wilkins: I support the principle of what Mr Bache says, in terms of some form of oversight-I mentioned earlier the criminal justice boards-but doing it on a case-by-case basis is unnecessary and is a particularly bureaucratic way to achieve it. Looking locally at figures on the range of disposals and possibly doing some dip sampling-certainly, in some of the work that we have done locally about hate crime, we dip-sample cases, asking whether the cases were dealt with appropriately and whether there are any learning points-is the sort of approach that I would suggest, rather than case by case.
John Bache: I did not mean every single case, but a random sampling.
Q157 Jeremy Corbyn: There is a geographical variation in the use of youth custody. Do you think that that is inevitable in a devolved system, or should there be better national guidelines?
Steve Crocker: There are some very interesting variations, but not the obvious ones that one would expect. However, justice is local and devolved, and there will be some variations. There could be some more effective guidance on courts, and there could be better examples of good practice, where courts have worked with YOTs and the police and other partners to reduce youth custody levels. There is potentially a role for the Youth Justice Board in disseminating that good practice more effectively.
Q158 Jeremy Corbyn: We have had evidence from previous witnesses that sentences of under six months have no effect whatever, because it is not enough time to work with the young person on education or anything else. Do you feel that that is a good position? Is it one that any of you would support?
Steve Crocker: I would support that position, yes.
John Bache: I support it as well. The fact is that we cannot give less than a full month’s custody sentence, and rarely would we give less than six months. We would find a way to avoid it, as custody really is the last resort. If we were seriously thinking of four months, I am sure that we could find a way of avoiding a custodial sentence altogether by giving an ISS or something like that, which is a direct alternative to custody. We are not just paying lip service; we genuinely try to avoid sending young people into custody if we can, and we are getting better at it.
Q159 Chair: To what extent do you think magistrates have enough information about the quality and nature of the non-custodial sentences-or, indeed, of custodial sentences? Do they have enough feedback on what happens to people who have gone into one or the other sentence, and enough training around all this?
John Bache: It can always be improved. The main factor in deciding whether to send someone into custody is the report from the YOT-the PSR report. That is tremendously powerful. If we are faced with somebody who has committed a fairly serious offence, we do not want to send them into custody, but we have to have an alternative. We have to sentence them to something. That comes out in the PSR. If you have a good relationship with your YOT, which most of us have, and if you have a good PSR that recommends a real, sensible alternative, with the logic behind it, you are going to avoid sending someone to custody.
Q160 Jeremy Corbyn: Mr Bache, after the riots last year, substantial custodial sentences were handed out to a lot of young people. We were told by the Attorney-General and the Secretary of State for Justice that there were no national guidelines on sentencing. It seems to me that a disproportionate number of young people were sent down for a long time, for relatively minor offences. That is not the norm. Was there any pressure on you about that? Does the Magistrates Association have a view on any of this?
John Bache: The riots were obviously a unique situation, and hopefully they will not happen again. One of the concerns that we had immediately following the riots was that district judges were involved a lot more than usual, rather than magistrates, which did not always please the magistrates. When you are sentencing, there has to be a deterrent to some extent. That came out to a far greater extent following the riots than it does in normal situations. To a certain extent, there was a deterrent part in the sentences that were passed.
Q161 Jeremy Corbyn: Mr Crocker, do you think that local authorities will largely take over youth custody in future?
Steve Crocker: I am not sure what you mean by taking over, but we will certainly have responsibility for the funding of children remanded into custody. I choose my words carefully, because we have responsibility for funding, but it appears that we are not going to have responsibility for deciding where those children will go. Interestingly, from the Hampshire perspective, which it is what I am best talking about, we will have children remanded into custody by Hampshire courts but we will have no say over where the children are to go, although the bill will be posted to us. I am not really sure, to be honest, that that is us being in control.
We want to move to a much better position, where we are working with the Youth Justice Board to commission those places on a much more local basis than currently, because at the moment all children in Hampshire who get sent to custody are sent to Ashfield, which is north of Bristol. That makes any notion of rehabilitation, from 100 miles away, quite tricky.
Q162 Jeremy Corbyn: We took evidence on youth custody issues and youth offending issues in Denmark and Norway, where their narrative is much more family involvement and intensive levels of support. To me, that seems a good thing. If what you are saying turns out to be the case, that young people can be sent to relatively distant places, then the possibility of family visits and family support rapidly disappears.
Steve Crocker: That is right.
Q163 Jeremy Corbyn: Also, the intensive support that you as a local authority in the area can give through children’s services and anything else will disappear.
Steve Crocker: Correct.
Q164 Jeremy Corbyn: Are you in negotiation about this with the Government?
Steve Crocker: I understand from last week’s Directors of Children’s Services conference that the Youth Justice Board is about to announce a commissioning group that will have representatives from local authorities on it. I do not know what the reality of that will be, but the reality at the moment is that there are insufficient custodial places around the country. One of the problems is that the system is characterised by large custodial units; I think that Ashfield holds 400. There is nowhere, apart from Swanwick Lodge, a secure children’s home for 16 that we run in Hampshire. We are not allowed to send our children there; we have to send them to Ashfield, because those places are commissioned by the Youth Justice Board. That tension seems to me to need unpicking. You are right, because if you add to that the extra dimension of those children remanded being children in care, it means that we are going to have to send them from Havant in Hampshire to Ashfield, which is about 120 miles or 130 miles away. We also have to send a YOT worker, a social worker and an independent reviewing officer on a regular basis to review the case. That does not seem to be a good use of public resources.
Q165 Jeremy Corbyn: You can multiply that all over the country, with a large number of experts spending a great deal of time making wholly unnecessary journeys.
Steve Crocker: Driving up and down the motorway, yes.
Q166 Jeremy Corbyn: That is very expensive.
Steve Crocker: Yes.
Q167 Mr Buckland: I want to come in on a point made by Mr Bache about the trial of all under-16s in the youth courts. That is a bit of an odd motion to pass, wasn’t it, bearing in mind that, for serious offences, young people, like adults, have a right to have a trial by jury?
John Bache: Yes, that is one of the obvious criticisms; but it is a real paradox that, 100 years after youth courts were set up, the most serious offences should still be dealt with in the adult court. After all, they are children, and the Crown court must be the wrong place for children.
Q168 Mr Buckland: Why?
John Bache: Because of the grandeur of it. Youth courts are used to dealing with youths, and a youth trial, as you know, is very different from an adult trial. The youth is far more involved and engaged in the process; the magistrates are talking directly to the youth, which does not happen in the Crown court.
Mr Buckland: That is not right.
Chair: Mr Buckland, I think that you might have to declare an interest.
Mr Buckland: I should declare an interest, as I am a Crown court recorder.
Chair: At which point, we should move on.
Q169 Seema Malhotra: Mr Bache, I want to follow up on an earlier point. It is about the feedback that you get on the effectiveness of disposals. Pre-sentence reports will be made before you make a decision on disposal.
John Bache: Yes.
Q170 Seema Malhotra: As part of the feedback process, and any concerns that magistrates might have about effectiveness, is there anything more that can be done after the young person has gone through the system to see whether or not that process has been effective?
John Bache: Magistrates would be very interested indeed in knowing how effective a sentence was. I am not quite sure of the logistics of how it would be done, but there is no question but that we would be very happy to know the feedback. At the moment, it is a real paradox. We get feedback only on the ones who breach. If we were silly enough, we would think that there is 100% failure rate-that is obviously not the case. We only see the ones that do not work, and it would be nice to see the ones that do work.
A slight comparison in the adult court is the drug rehabilitation requirement. You see the person, and keep seeing them, for six or 12 months, which is very satisfying, because you establish a real relationship with that person. Occasionally-I certainly have one locally-they actually come off drugs, and that is very satisfying. Feedback would be very welcome. It would be difficult to organise, but that is no reason for not doing it. You can get feedback statistically, of course, but it is the individuals that we would be interested in.
Q171 Seema Malhotra: My next question is initially to Mr Bache. It is about confidence in youth rehabilitation orders, and the number of positive requirements that can be attached. Statistics show that positive requirement attachments have been very low; of about 18,000 YROs in 2010-11, we saw about 196 education requirements, half of them for drugs. Is there an issue of confidence, or is it the availability of provision or other factors? Why is there such a low usage of positive requirements?
John Bache: When magistrates sentence in the youth court, they depend very much on the PSR from the YOT. I am fudging the answer here, but if we are given a PSR from the YOT, we consider it very carefully and, under normal circumstances, we follow it. We do not always follow it, by any manner of means, as that would be wrong, but the YOT does not often recommend education requirements, probably because the young person has been out of education for some time. That, of course, might be a reason for getting them back in. We do get positive ones, however; we get programme requirements, and we get action on attendance centres. There are plenty of positive requirements, but I do not remember ever giving an education requirement.
Q172 Seema Malhotra: Is the positive requirement the recommendation of the YOT, or is it that you as magistrates will be leading that discussion?
John Bache: The YOT would include in the PRS what recommendations it suggests to us for the YRO. We would normally-not normally, but often-follow those suggestions. As we have said before, the YOT puts an awful lot of work into it, and on the background and what is most appropriate for the young person. That is one of the good things about sentencing young people as opposed to adults: you have much more flexibility. Although in the adult court we obviously direct the sentence to the individual offender, in the youth court that is a lot more true; we take all the factors into account and hopefully we come up, with the support of the YOT, with a sentence that will protect the public but also help that young person get his life back on target. Of course, if you can get them at that age, you are much more likely to have permanent success than if you get them at an older age.
Q173 Seema Malhotra: To clarify your response, is it an assumption that you are making on why education is not put forward more often as a positive requirement?
John Bache: It is an assumption.
Q174 Seema Malhotra: Rather than it being because you have had conversations with youth offending teams about what has come forward and why. For example, is lack of availability of provision an issue?
John Bache: It is not a lack of availability. There is a lack of availability in a particular area, which is intensive fostering; that often is not available. For the education requirement, it is not a lack of availability.
Q175 Chair: One thing that frustrates the Committee is that when you are sentencing, all the things that Ms Malhotra has just mentioned-education, intensive fostering and so forth-are questions that the YOT will have looked at, but are they available?
John Bache: That is right.
Q176 Chair: Whereas if you sentence them to custody, somebody has got to find a custodial place?
John Bache: That is right.
Q177 Chair: It may be a badly located one, but you know that it will be dealt with?
John Bache: That is right. There was a review of YOT reports a few months ago, and the Magistrates Association had only one criticism of it: there was not a great deal of emphasis put on educational background, and we mentioned that to the YOT.
Chair: Does Mr Crocker have anything to say about this?
Q178 Mr Llwyd: May I make one point first-a serious point about availability? To my knowledge, drug treatment in north Wales and Cheshire is not that good, is it? I mean drug referrals.
John Bache: I personally have never had a problem with that. I have found it very satisfactory, but it is a terribly difficult problem to deal with.
Q179 Mr Llwyd: Yes, I know.
John Bache: I cannot say that I found difficulty. I am from Cheshire.
Mr Llwyd: Yes, I know.
Q180 Chair: From what Mr Bache says, we have the impression that the YOTs report may be the crucial thing in steering magistrates on what kind of positive requirements need to be placed. Is there any reason why some things are used so little?
Steve Crocker: I do not have any evidence on the education issue in particular, but I have some speculative thoughts on why that might be the case.
A couple of factors are involved, I should have thought. One is that schools are increasingly self-governing bodies, which means that the local authority does not have the power, as it were, to direct the school to do X, Y or Z. That is No. 1, but that does not preclude it because there is the opportunity to work with youth offending teams, and we know that some schools work extremely well with them; they can work very closely with us in putting packages of education together for young people.
This is very speculative, so I cannot give you firm evidence, but I think that there is some reluctance from YOTs. You might have a package of education around a young person, but young people are by nature very volatile. It is where it takes you: if the young person does not do well with that particular educational package, does it mean that you then have to breach them and take them back to court, or can you construct a different package or be more flexible? There is some reluctance around having to breach children-for instance, for school non-attendance-leading to them coming back to the court and facing a custodial sentence. That is only speculation; I cannot give hard and fast evidence.
Q181 Chair: Is intensive fostering an availability issue?
Steve Crocker: I think that it is. I know that some areas received pump-priming funding from the Youth Justice Board to start it up. Hampshire was one of those areas, so we have intensive fostering, but I know that other areas of the country did not receive that pump-priming money. It requires quite extensive training and validation from an external organisation to be considered for it-"intensive fostering" with a proper label as it were.
Chair: That is an interesting thing to explore.
Mr Bache, Mr Crocker and Mr Wilkins, thank you very much indeed for you help this morning. It has been of great assistance to us.