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UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE
To be published as HC 339-v
House of COMMONS
TAKEN BEFORE the
TUESDAY 4 December 2012
Paula Jack and Mary Brannigan
Professor Shadd Maruna, Dave Weir and Koulla Yiasouma
Evidence heard in Public Questions 300 - 380
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Taken before the Justice Committee
on Tuesday 4 December 2012
Sir Alan Beith (Chair)
Mr Robert Buckland
Mr Elfyn Llwyd
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Paula Jack, Chief Executive, Youth Justice Agency Northern Ireland, and Mary Brannigan, Director of Youth Justice Services, Youth Justice Agency Northern Ireland, gave evidence.
Chair: Welcome, Paula Jack, Chief Executive of the Youth Justice Agency Northern Ireland, and Mary Brannigan, Director of Youth Justice Services for the Agency.
This is the first time that the House of Commons Justice Committee has met in the very distinguished surroundings of Stormont. It is the second occasion on which the Committee has met in another legislative assembly, the previous one being the Welsh Assembly, some time ago. We are very glad to have the benefits of the facilities here; we much appreciate them. We are glad to be in Northern Ireland, which we regard as particularly interesting because experimental things are happening from which we are inclined to think that the rest of the United Kingdom could learn some useful lessons. Restorative justice and the way in which that works with the youth justice system is one of those things. I am going to ask Mr Buckland to open the questions.
Q300 Mr Buckland: Looking, first of all, at the way in which youth conferencing was established, it is clear that your model drew on a number of other jurisdictions, most notably the New Zealand model of family group conferencing. What made you settle on the current model that you use in Northern Ireland?
Paula Jack: If we go back to the Good Friday agreement and the Criminal Justice Review in 2000, the authorities at that stage said, "We want to introduce restorative practice within youth justice, so how best can we make this happen?" A lot of work went into the research behind this as part of the Criminal Justice Review, and a delegation from the Northern Ireland Office went over to view family conferencing in New Zealand. They took some of the really good ideas that came from there in terms of working restoratively with victims and allowing that victim voice within the process. Once that had been established, it was the model that we decided upon.
Q301 Mr Buckland: Domestically, in Northern Ireland, there has been a heavy use of community-based restorative justice mechanisms, which we are starting to see on a pilot basis in England and Wales. To what extent did that domestic experience here allow for the introduction of more formal restorative processes in the youth justice system?
Paula Jack: There have always been problems with community-based restorative justice in Northern Ireland, and they were also influencing the Criminal Justice Review recommendations. That community-based restorative justice is funded by statutory bodies now, too, including the Department of Justice.
If we look at our youth conference model and the fact that it is also restorative-based in practice, we can see that there are benefits of having that within the community already, and that acceptance of the restorative approach is always beneficial. By introducing youth conferencing, we already had community awareness of restorative justice and the benefits that come from that; and there is huge support for a restorative resolution that involves victims in that process. So we do have a close working relationship with those who deliver community restorative-based justice across Northern Ireland, and we provide funding from the agency to help in the delivery of our own services.
Q302 Mr Buckland: Looking at the basis of restorative justice-it has now been put on a statutory footing within the youth system-how would you regard and describe the impact of that?
Paula Jack: If we look at the concept of restorative justice, it is well recognised that if it is not on a statutory footing, it can be underused, so there were benefits in putting it into statute and formalising the process. That comes from the pressures of time and the work involved in engaging victims in the process as an added step within the justice system. By putting it on a statutory footing, we could embed it at the heart of the youth justice system. That also enabled appropriate resources to be dedicated to starting up youth conferencing as a process and also supporting it as an ongoing process within the system. It gives that important step that the victims then have a statutory right to be involved and to be heard during the youth justice process.
Q303 Mr Buckland: Just developing the point of the statutory right of victims, would you say that it is very much a victim-led process, or would it be wrong to characterise it as being led by either party? How would you describe it?
Paula Jack: In terms of it being statutory, the victim has a role within the youth conference and, where possible, the victim will be present. You will probably hear later a bit more about the direct victim involvement or the personal victim involvement in that process. It is not led by the victim, but the victim is part of that, and that is a really important message because you have to remember the concept of proportionality within this process. It is important that we remember that the outcome for the young person is proportionate to the offence.
You will know yourselves, in terms of victim expectations for outcome, that that sometimes has to be managed very carefully. Our co-ordinators are trained to make sure that the meeting that they hold ensures that proportionality is maintained. We have done a lot of work in the last two years around that proportionality, too, because we had to rebalance that. Expectations sometimes are higher in terms of punishment, whereas if you look at your final warning system, or the equivalent matters at the final warning stage, with perhaps a small intervention from the youth offending team, it is important at that diversionary youth conference stage that proportionality, in particular, is maintained. I don’t know, Mary, if you want to add anything.
Mary Brannigan: Yes, I would agree with that. From the very beginning, we have advocated a balanced approach right across the youth conference. As we work, you can imagine a triangle model for a balance between the community expectation, victim expectation and the needs of the young person. All those are taken into account. As Paula has rightly said, part of the skill of the co-ordinator is to manage the expectations of the victim when they come into the room, because obviously we don’t want to overegg the pudding. When a young person is receiving their plan or their disposal at the end, it has to be proportionate to the offence. Often, equally, it applies the other way in that when a victim comes into the room, they maybe don’t understand that the young person has various needs that need to be addressed. Sometimes victims can be quite sympathetic towards the young person, but it is about the professionalism of the co-ordinator, who ultimately puts the recommendation to the Public Prosecution Service or to the court.
Q304 Mr Buckland: Would you say that that triangular system evolved from the community-based processes here in Northern Ireland?
Mary Brannigan: Yes. The third part of the triangle is very important, which is community expectation as well as the individual expectation in the room. That has certainly evolved from the community restorative justice model that existed prior.
Q305 Steve Brine: Turning to the appropriateness of the conferencing system, can we look at your approach to the use of the system for persistent offenders? I know your own review of youth justice said that intensive supervision may be a more effective approach. It did not rule against it entirely, but it said that it may be a more effective approach to reducing the offending of persistent serious offenders than a conference plan. Do you think it is successful when it comes to persistent offenders?
Paula Jack: In the same way that a young person in the England and Wales system would receive multiple orders were they to reoffend, the youth conference is the order that they would receive as a multiple order here in Northern Ireland. So, yes, it can still work, and the importance varies to have the victim still involved in the process.
We started back in 2004. When we look at some of the statistics, between 2004 and March 2012, 78% of the young people have had two or fewer referrals, and 61% have had one referral only. In terms of persistence, it is not a high level of persistence, but we recognise that some young people have had multiple youth conference orders. This can be challenging. We have to recognise that, and we do recognise that a very persistent young person may be facing multiple orders because our legislation is restricted to a 12-month order, and then they run alongside each other. That can very much be a limit because you are resulting in multiple individual plans for the persistent young person, and that lack of accumulation does cause us some lack of flexibility and, potentially, some loss of effect.
We are looking at this now, and at flexible ways to interpret that, to make sure that we give the high-risk persistent young offender the right interventions at the right time. It is about being flexible and ensuring that we still have that victim participation where it is appropriate, but our statutory timetable means that that can be very early on in the process. Perhaps one of the lessons that we have learned is that, on occasions, with the more persistent offender, or for other reasons that we may talk about later, there may be a better time to have that restorative intervention. It is balancing that between what we talked about earlier about the statutory introduction of it to give it support versus the need of the victims and the young people.
Mary Brannigan: Could I just add something to that as well? If you are considering this system, one of the anomalies in the approach when it comes to persistent offenders is that each and every offence has to be taken on an individual basis and conferenced. That is to give each victim their particular individual say. When you are looking at persistent young people, yes, we do have some young people who have 12 or 16 plans running concurrently. However, in the traditional justice system, some of those offences would have been rolled into one, with one community order given so that it looks like one order, but, because of the way our system is set up on a statutory footing and the fact that the victims need to have their individual say, it can look as if there are quite a few conferences attributed to one young person.
Q306 Chair: And you can’t bundle these up in some way and have a single conference with several victims taking part.
Mary Brannigan: Sometimes we have one conference with several victims, if it is to do with one offence, but not if there are different offences, because, obviously, you have your individual victim who needs to be in the room to have their say.
Q307 Chair: Is that a design fault or a necessity?
Paula Jack: I asked the youth justice review team to look at this particular aspect because we could see the benefit of perhaps a lengthier order not dissimilar to your own youth rehabilitation order, with a chance to do the different restorative meetings as and when appropriate with different victims, were it to be a roll-up, if I can call it that. So, yes, perhaps that is something that could have been done better and it is a lesson to take away if you are looking at legislation in relation to this.
Q308 Steve Brine: Finally, are serious offenders referred to courts and likely to get a less serious sanction than if they don’t participate? Is it a soft option?
Mary Brannigan: No, I wouldn’t say so. If a persistent young offender, or any young offender in fact, refuses to participate in a conference, sentencing is a matter for the court following that and not a matter for us. So, no, I do not think that is the case. Where a young person refuses to go into a conference, either because they don’t want to meet the victim or they just feel unable to participate in the process, then, generally, the whole series of events goes down the route of a pre-sentence report and a recommendation is moved to the court in the same way as a youth conference, except that the victim is not involved. The answer to your question is no, I haven’t seen that.
Q309 Mr Llwyd: The Justice (Northern Ireland) Act 2002, which you will be very well aware of, requires the offender to do one or more of the following: apologise to the victim; perform unpaid community work or service; make financial reparation to the victim; submit him or herself to the supervision of an adult; participate in activities addressing offending; be subject to physically restrictive sanctions such as curfews; and, if necessary, undertake treatment for a mental condition or for dependency on alcohol or drugs. How do you ensure that conference plans meet the needs of offenders?
Mary Brannigan: I have to say that this was a gap at the start of the process, and I have explained that each individual conference is conferenced on an individual basis. The plan emanating from that conference used to be purely what went on in that room and then out the other side. Certainly, about two years ago, when I became director of the Youth Conference Service, I recognised there was a gap in all of this. We have now introduced an assessment to sit alongside the conference process. Therefore, the plan that emanates from the conference is based not only on what goes on in the room, but on a full assessment of the young person’s needs prior to the conference. What we have then is a mixed economy in the plan, which takes into account the factors that have caused the young person to offend in the first place, because if those are not addressed, the risk of reoffending increases. So we have a dual process, if you like. If you are thinking about introducing this system, I would advocate that you have a very robust assessment system sitting alongside what actually happens in the conference.
Q310 Mr Llwyd: Does it take a lot of time or are they running in parallel, virtually?
Mary Brannigan: They generally run in parallel. We, generally, have 20 working days from when we receive a referral to coming out the other side. In between those 20 days an assessment is undertaken parallel to preparation for the conference. The conference then takes place. Then it is all put into the round, if you like, and then recommendations come out of both processes. The assessment, generally, takes account of family, education, employment needs, drugs, alcohol and mental health, so we have a mixed economy.
Q311 Mr Llwyd: I am interested to know-I don’t know whether you can help me on this matter-what reasons the courts or, indeed, the prosecution service, typically give for rejecting a conference plan.
Mary Brannigan: We very rarely have plans completely rejected either by the PPS or the court. In fact, I can’t think of any instance, certainly across the last number of years. What we do have sometimes is when the PPS or the court amend a plan. This may be, for example, when they increase the hours of unpaid work, if they feel that the hours of unpaid work are not enough to justify an outcome, but rarely would they ever change the treatment aspect of the plan, because that has been very carefully thought through by everybody in the room, when it comes, for example, to looking at mental health or drugs issues. What we find in terms of amendment is usually in relation to reparation, reparative hours or making good the harm that has been caused.
Q312 Mr Llwyd: You say they could intervene, as it were, to increase the number of hours.
Mary Brannigan: Yes.
Q313 Mr Llwyd: What should that be based on? What analysis would the courts have to make that decision?
Mary Brannigan: As I previously said, sentencing is a matter for the court. We make a recommendation to the court and then it is entirely up to the court as to what they do with that recommendation. It may well be that the district judge feels that the plan is not stringent enough, or it could be in some cases-very rarely-that they feel it is too stringent. Ultimately, a district judge and two lay magistrates make the decision at the end of the day as to what comes out of it.
Q314 Mr Llwyd: But they very rarely reject it.
Mary Brannigan: They very rarely reject it, yes.
Paula Jack: Just to add to that, the plan is not unlike a pre-sentence report, but based on the restorative approach, so that full detail is going in written form to the court in the same way that a pre-sentence report would, if that makes it clearer.
Q315 Mr Llwyd: Yes. So the courts would be fully informed of the reasons why and how the decision was reached and so on. How do levels of compliance with conference plans compare with compliance rates for young offenders who have not gone through conferencing?
Mary Brannigan: Because of the way our system has been set up, and because it has been set in statute since 2004, it would be extremely rare, if ever, that a young person is in the system who has not been through the conference process. All I can tell you is that, in terms of our quarterly reviews and reports, compliance is about 96% to 98% across the board.
Q316 Mr Llwyd: I am happy to be one who believes in restorative justice. As a matter of fact, I have had very good evidence that it can work very well-not always, but very often. Following on from that, are you able to assist us by telling us what effect it has had generally on reoffending?
Mary Brannigan: Yes. Unfortunately, we have only had the reoffending statistics since 2008. From the way our system works, this was a 2008 cohort that we worked from. Based on a one-year reoffending rate, the overall statistics were 37.4% when it comes to reoffending. In total, we have had 1,565 plans, and court-ordered youth conferences come out at 45.4% reoffending, but our diversionary youth conferences, which is our partnership with PPS, come out at 29.4%, which is very good in comparison with other statistics.
Q317 Mr Llwyd: Yes, it certainly is. I am no expert on this, so I am asking a question based on evidence and advice we have had, but why do you think that plans are getting longer, if indeed they are?
Paula Jack: This is something that we are doing a lot of work on. This is something that we raised with the Youth Justice Review. When I came in two years ago, we were very conscious of the fact that plans were getting longer. That was just a creep, if you like, and we just needed to take stock and step back from it, which we have. We have done a great deal of work around proportionality. In relation to some of these diversionary plans, some of those young people would have had a caution or an informal warning prior to the introduction of this statutory process. Is the "conference only" sufficient? In some cases, yes, it is. That is what the legislation actually said.
Both Mary and I have been in post for about two years now, but we found, looking through the cases, that there were very few "conference only"s, but there were plans coming out the other side with unpaid work or other things to do. That is a really important lesson in keeping that proportionality for diversion so that, in relation to that low-level offending that comes in through to the youth conference, the victim has their right in the conference room, but the outcome may just be the apology, minor reparation or whatever it might be. We have done a lot of work around that, and we are still doing that within the agency to promote that lower end of proportionality. It works both ways. There is a lot of work to do around high risk as well, for the very reasons we talked about earlier. At the lower level, too, it is important that you start on the basis of the right intervention and the proportionate intervention.
Q318 Chair: The statistics we have indicate that victims have a satisfaction level of 75% to 85% in the process. What do you think that is attributable to?
Mary Brannigan: Historically, and for a long time since our process started in 2004, our victim satisfaction rates were up at 100% for a lot of the time. However, in analysing that and trying to get an absolutely true picture, that was based on a sample of direct victims as opposed to all direct victims. We have now introduced a new system whereby all direct victims who consent are surveyed at the end of the conference process and also at the end of their time with Youth Justice Services. Obviously, this is not just about the conference. It is about the plan that happens after the conference. We want to ensure that the victims are kept informed the whole way through until the young person finishes. A true reflection of our victim satisfaction is now 96%, which is still quite high, but it is not the 100% that we previously thought.
Q319 Chair: It is very good. Why do you think it is so good?
Mary Brannigan: To be honest, it is to do with the preparation pre-conference. You also have to remember that we have dedicated youth conference co-ordinators, who have been trained to a very high degree, who have in and around five conferences a month to deal with. That does give them quite a bit of time to prepare the victim for the conference so that the victim is going into the room fully prepared for what he or she may expect. That is another lesson if this system is to be replicated elsewhere. It is quite resource-intensive because, if you are going to have those levels of victim satisfaction, it has to be a very one-on-one approach with the victim pre-conference. Also the victim has to be kept informed, or should be kept informed, if they wish, the whole way through the young person’s time with us following the conference.
Q320 Chair: But you could have a very smoothly run jail that did not achieve the same levels of victim satisfaction. There must be something inherent in the process.
Paula Jack: It is the victim voice. It is one of the few times in that process when the victim-unless they are giving evidence, and even when they are giving evidence it is so controlled-has that opportunity to say how they feel. It is such a rare thing in the justice system to be able to say how you actually feel about the crime as opposed to the bare facts.
Q321 Chair: Can you explain the distinction you draw between personal victims and other victims? What are non-personal victims?
Mary Brannigan: Again, we have redefined our "victim" definitions because every definition that may have been relevant in 2004 we have revisited, and our direct victims are those individuals or communities that have been directly affected by the crime. So it is very clear that the person sitting in the room has, at first hand, knowledge, experience and feelings of the crime that has been committed. We also have victim representatives, but we do not define those as direct victims.
Q322 Chair: But they are not victims, are they? Are they people speaking up for the victim?
Mary Brannigan: They can be. They can be a relation or a family member. For example, if there is a vulnerable adult or young person who does not feel able to take part in the conference, a parent, aunt or community leader who knows the victim really well and can represent their story also attends conferences, but we do not define those as direct victims.
Paula Jack: But we do include the community in our direct victim definition, because if you take, for example, the summer rioting in Northern Ireland, it may be that the community representative is the best person to be present as the direct victim to explain the harm caused. That works really well and it also builds community confidence.
Q323 Chair: Do you think that this system, including youth conferencing, has increased public confidence?
Paula Jack: I gave you an example of an occasion when it may. Victim satisfaction is obviously high for those directly involved from the public. I am sure you know yourselves in terms of the Northern Ireland crime survey that, unless you are directly involved in the youth justice system, you may not be directly aware of exactly what goes on. The most recent crime survey figures show that around 47.2% of people are confident that we can reduce reoffending. We are doing our own stakeholder surveys at the moment, which is something that is quite new to us. We are aware of the high satisfaction we get from victims. We are aware that we do a lot of work. We have eight teams across Northern Ireland, which have assistant directors. The important message is that we don’t just do youth conferencing. We do all the other statutory orders as well. We do a lot of community engagement, working very closely with the local community on other confidence issues, too. It is a much wider picture, rather than saying that youth conferencing would solve community confidence. It is a much more holistic approach from the agency.
Q324 Jeremy Corbyn: Thank you for coming to give evidence to help us today. On the question of outcomes, what is the difference in reoffending between those who have been through youth conferencing and those who have been through custodial sentences?
Paula Jack: I can give you all of the figures for community-based orders, youth conference and custody. If we look at community-based orders, which excludes youth conferencing, our 2008 cohort, based on one-year reoffending, shows a reoffending rate of 53.5%. In relation to court orders-Mary gave you those figures-it was 45.4%, and in diversionary youth conference it was 29.4%. Custody is not dissimilar to England and Wales, coming out at 68.3%.
Q325 Jeremy Corbyn: Although, presumably, those who had custodial sentences initially had committed much more serious offences.
Paula Jack: Our custody population is very low in Northern Ireland. Our average population is 31, and that is for all the under-18s. It is about half the England and Wales rate. Some of those who are in custody, because of the delay we have here, may still be subject to youth conference orders. They may still have other cases pending.
Q326 Chair: Because they have different offences, such as custody for one and youth conferencing for another.
Paula Jack: We would make sure that that victim still gets the conference. That is a challenging aspect of it too, because maybe your persistent offenders are not at the point where they should be engaging with victims. That is something I would stress to you because I am sure you have those challenges in the system in England and Wales, too, where there may be a serious drugs problems or a serious mental health problem. Also, we have to look at the challenges of speech, language and communication, which is a big piece of work that we are doing at the moment. We have to make sure that the process is right for the young person too; otherwise you get led by the victim process.
Q327 Jeremy Corbyn: How long have you been doing conferencing for so that you are able to track individuals and see the outcomes six months, a year, 18 months, two years and so on down the line?
Paula Jack: Our reoffending is not as sophisticated as that of our cohorts. The reason for that is because we have significant delay problems. Even when we try to do a one-year reoffending problem, those young people could have a lot of pending offences and we are missing them within that. I can’t give you confident figures around that. It is something that challenges us constantly as an agency. You will know the effects yourself of delay on young people in the system. We are facing the challenges that England perhaps had 10 or 15 yeas ago. We have a lot of work to do around that. So, no, I can’t give you those figures.
Q328 Jeremy Corbyn: Are you, as an organisation, following individuals, and over what period?
Paula Jack: Our last cohort, as you have heard, was 2008. Those will be all the young people in the system in 2008. We are working on the 2009 one at the moment. We have, manually, to go through each of those records because of the way it is working at the moment, so you can imagine the challenge that we have. It is not ideal.
Q329 Jeremy Corbyn: Don’t you need an IT department?
Paula Jack: We have one. We have the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency, but they are the ones facing this challenge. If I can explain, it is not the tracking of it. It is the fact that the young person who is in custody today may still have four or five pending offences that haven’t been dealt with yet.
Q330 Jeremy Corbyn: I have two quick points. Has conferencing reduced the number of custodial sentences in general?
Paula Jack: Yes.
Q331 Jeremy Corbyn: What is the relative cost, roughly, of conferencing compared with anything else?
Mary Brannigan: We have looked at this internally. In the round, a conference generally costs around £2,800. That takes into account our percentage of corporate services. For example, the electric bill in each office is divided down, and it also includes the cost of other participants of the conference, because, under legislation, we must have a police officer present. Really, that is a cost in the round. Then, obviously, we have the plan emanating from the conference, which comes with its own cost. Depending on intensity, we can have a very short plan that costs £200, or we could have a really lengthy and intense 12-month plan, and we have costed that at around £8,000. So the plan afterwards can cost anything between nothing and, in the round, £8,000. They are internal figures.
Q332 Jeremy Corbyn: Is it the public’s perception that conferencing is a good thing, or do they see it as a soft option?
Paula Jack: I don’t think it is seen as a soft option because of the menu of activities that can come with it, right up to the custody cycle. In the beginning there was that challenge in terms of explaining what it was we were doing, but, in the early days, there was a lot of publicity and campaigning to explain what we were doing. When the message came out that the victims were very much involved in this-I am going back to the history of this being a jurisdiction that has big community-based restorative justice-I think that people appreciated the way that that works. To engage the judiciary and others in a new process like this was a big challenge when it is on a statutory footing.
Mary Brannigan: It has been a hearts-and-minds issue for us, certainly since 2004, and it continues to be so. It is about getting the point across to the public, which is a true one, that it is very difficult for a young person to sit in a room with somebody whom they have harmed and to listen to their story back. So, no, I don’t think it should be viewed as a soft option. In fact, it is the more difficult option than the more traditional route.
Q333 Jeremy Corbyn: It is not my view. I put the question, in a sense, rhetorically, because there are some in the media who describe these things as that.
Paula Jack: Yes.
Mary Brannigan: As Paula has already mentioned, we have to be careful the other way that the plans emanating from a conference are proportional and proportionate to the offence, because it is very easy, when you have the young person in the room and you want to add stuff to help and to reduce offending, to over-egg the pudding, as I mentioned before. We now gatekeep every single plan that emanates from a conference to ensure that it is proportionate and that the young person is receiving justice, as well as the victim having their say.
Paula Jack: You end up with up to 240 hours’ unpaid work which, as you know, is the direct alternative to custody anyway. When you talk about that as the potential outcome of the plan, one of the things we learned in the very early days was that it is important not to sell the restorative conference as the only issue. It is very easy to talk a lot about the restorative process and not a lot about the work that we still would do with young people in the plan, which is not dissimilar to a referral order or youth rehabilitation order work. That work is still there. It is about making sure that, when you are introducing this, you say that we still do all these very challenging drugs programmes, we help with mental health and we do all of this work in the community. You say that this is extra, otherwise people do come out with the comment that the easy option is just to say, "Sorry."
Jeremy Corbyn: Sure.
Mary Brannigan: As Paula said, the conference is just the very start of the process. It is about an assessment, and it is also about giving the victim an opportunity to have their say and a multi-agency team making a recommendation to the court or the Public Prosecution Service as to what should happen. As Paula has said, what happens after the conference is extremely important. We have eight teams across Northern Ireland that deliver plans. It is important to remember that also.
Paula Jack: Certainly when I came into post, we were speaking in Westminster and one of the questions was about the savings that come from this. I did say, and I will make it clear again, that the conference is another layer of staff on top of, if you like, existing YOTs or workers. We have that benefit for the historical reasons that I outlined to you. When we were setting this scheme up we were well resourced to take this on, but it is challenging if you are taking it as an add-on to the work that you do with young people already because of the multi-faceted needs that those young people often have. You still need your core teams of community deliverers.
Q334 Chair: I am tempted to wonder whether you are benefiting from Northern Ireland public expenditure being higher than in any other region of the UK, and whether that will survive the ultimate normalisation of funding.
Paula Jack: It will be interesting.
Chair: Mr Buckland, do you have a point?
Q335 Mr Buckland: Yes. I was very interested in what you said about the delays in the system. Your measurement is our measurement, which is the one-year reoffending rate. On reoffending, the index is conviction, is it not?
Paula Jack: Yes.
Q336 Mr Buckland: Do you have a two-year measurement to take into account delays in the system?
Paula Jack: We don’t, because that would not give us what the statistical people tell us would be a comparable figure, so we have to work to the one-year measurement. That is why it is difficult to have confidence. Around the diversionary youth conference figures, you can have confidence because, in the same way as with your final warning, those children are unlikely, perhaps, to reoffend in any event. It is when you get into the comparisons. Our custody is not dissimilar in terms of reoffending rates, although our numbers are a lot lower. In terms of community-based, it is fairly comparable with your reoffending rates. I would like to be able to trace backwards very much in the way that was suggested, but it makes it very hard because you have probably seen the figures of how long it takes for cases to get through the system here.
Q337 Mr Buckland: So delay may not be a factor in skewing any figures as between England and Wales, and Northern Ireland.
Paula Jack: It should not be a big factor because we update them one year behind you. It is just that we can’t be any more up to date because we have to allow 2009, 2010 and 2011 to go by to make sure that cases have been dealt with, whereas with your speedy system you can do it one year behind.
Q338 Mr Buckland: You, of course, have experience as a prosecutor in England and Wales.
Paula Jack: I do, yes.
Q339 Mr Llwyd: I have one final small point. You mentioned earlier on, in terms of victim satisfaction, quite reasonably, that victims’ expectations should be managed. How big a factor is that in the ultimate satisfaction rate?
Mary Brannigan: Of the 4% of victims who are not satisfied, that is quite often a reason for dissatisfaction, but it happens rarely. What we have found is that when victims come into the room, they are very realistic as to outcomes. They are very sympathetic and show great empathy towards the young person and really want to help. They want to see the young person making a better life for themselves. They want to see the best possible outcome for that young person. Sometimes, however, victims come in with a feeling that more should happen on the other side, if you like, which is why we have to be very careful about proportionality. In answer to your question, it happens very rarely, which reflects the 4% dissatisfaction.
Paula Jack: We should emphasise, too, the resources that we have for preparation because we have two meetings beforehand. The victim is well prepared before it, rather than just turning up on the day not knowing what to expect. We make sure that they are fully prepared before they come in and afterwards as well, so we do have that luxury, if you like, of being able to do that.
Q340 Mr Llwyd: It is quite labour-intensive then, is it not?
Paula Jack: Yes.
Chair: Thank you both very much, indeed. We are very grateful for your help.
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Professor Shadd Maruna, Director, Institute of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Queen’s University Belfast, Dave Weir, Director of Services, Families and Children, NIACRO (member organisation of Children in Northern Ireland), and Koulla Yiasouma, Include Youth (member organisation of Children in Northern Ireland), gave evidence.
Chair: Welcome, Ms Yiasouma, Mr Weir and Professor Maruna. You are, respectively, from Include Youth, from NIACRO as Director of Services, Families and Children, and from the Institute of Criminology of Queen’s University Belfast. We are very glad to have your help in the work we are doing in looking at the example of Northern Ireland and the experience that Northern Ireland has had of things that we are interested to see developing in our own justice system. I will ask Mr Buckland to begin.
Q341 Mr Buckland: I want to start from the position where we started with the previous panel, which was the origins of the establishment of the youth conferencing model in the youth justice system here in Northern Ireland and, in particular, the experience of community-based restorative justice. From your perspectives, how do you think that that facilitated the development of the current model that is used?
Dave Weir: The existence of community-based restorative justice almost certainly accelerated the interest in the statutory sector in the concept of restorative justice. It had certainly been talked about before. We were aware of the experience in New Zealand and in Australia. We took a look at South Africa and various other places. Community-based restorative justice was an attempt to exercise a degree of control of some behaviours that the regular police service, in certain contexts, were not able to deliver satisfactorily, or to the satisfaction of the community, so community-based restorative justice was a model that grew as a response to that.
That, then, accelerated the statutory interest in the concept and provided a way of addressing community concerns about behaviours of individuals in a way that could be seen as making good, paying back to the community and satisfying the community that there was something meaningful happening. The two things probably fed each other, but one accelerated the other.
Koulla Yiasouma: I would fully endorse what Dave has just said. Our experience has been that one of the reasons for the acceleration was a way of bypassing the community-based restorative justice schemes which, at that time, had a legitimacy issue, shall we say, because of the way they were working with communities and in communities. The regret about that relationship, particularly in the early days of youth conferencing and the Youth Justice Agency, is that youth conferencing was used to bypass the community-based process. Instead of working in partnership, they were used to bypass the schemes. Only recently have we begun to see change in greater partnerships. That has been able to happen through the form of accreditation of the community-based schemes by the Department of Justice and also the fact that they are doing some excellent work within communities.
Professor Maruna: I agree with all of that. Community legitimacy is essential to restorative justice. It was a grave mistake in the early days of youth conferencing that there were not better and more cohesive interactions between the community-based and the statutory sector. Everyone regrets now that that relationship was stilted for a number of years. I don’t think it is still at a perfect point, but, as Koulla says, there has been considerable progress now that there is much more interaction between the two. The Quakers run a forum for restorative justice that brings all the different restorative bodies together. There is also a masters programme at the university of Ulster that has facilitated a number of inner changes and exchanges between the different groups, which has helped a lot.
Q342 Mr Buckland: To characterise it, there was an initial tension and an early problem, and at the time of the review, which I think was last year, that was brought to the fore.
Professor Maruna: Yes.
Koulla Yiasouma: Yes. As you know, the Criminal Justice Review that came out of the Good Friday agreement in 1998, with the ensuing 2002 Act, brought about youth conferencing, and that was at a time when the community-based schemes were not legitimised by the state. It was not in their interest to be at that time in view of what they were doing. The development began about two or three years ago.
Q343 Mr Buckland: Right. There has been a positive move away-
Koulla Yiasouma: Slowly but surely, yes.
Mr Buckland: Good.
Q344 Chair: Who were the movers behind the original community justice schemes? Was it churches, the women’s movement or a peace group?
Koulla Yiasouma: We will take the credit.
Dave Weir: I can’t take the credit, sadly. My organisation, for which I did not work at the time, through Professor Kieran McEvoy and others, was involved in direct conversation with the informal and the community-based restorative justice programmes, advising, guiding, encouraging, thinking, developing dialogue and working out ways in which the community-based restorative schemes could operate in a way that, if not wholly transparent and not wholly endorsed by the state, afforded some protections to the quality of practice and to the people who were subjected to it, as it were.
Q345 Chair: This is in a context where the alternative justice system might have been knee-capping and whatever.
Dave Weir: I am afraid so, yes. That is exactly the situation.
Youlla Yiasouma: That is the history. The history of the community-based schemes was to remove the perceived need in communities for what is called "community punishments", or what, in any other terms, would be physical assaults on children.
Q346 Chair: As a result, you worked with people within communities who were trying to develop this programme.
Dave Weir: Yes. That was to create codes of practice-a sound theoretical basis and practice guidelines-for what they were doing. I have to say that some communities did not accept what we were doing. There were some who were afraid of them and resisted them, and some who regarded them as another form of paramilitarisation, so all those perceptions were around. Having said that, they persevered, and they continue to persevere to provide a service that is now, as Koulla said, to an extent, legitimised and working in co-operation with statutory services.
Q347 Chair: There is, of course, no parallel to this in the rest of the United Kingdom.
Dave Weir: No.
Q348 Chair: The community saw the need for restorative justice before the state did.
Koulla Yiasouma: Yes.
Q349 Steve Brine: Professor Maruna, you heard our exchanges with the previous witnesses about the appropriateness of the conferencing system. Do you think it is appropriate to use youth conferencing with persistent offenders?
Professor Maruna: To a degree, the term "persistent offenders" is a red herring. It is difficult to define what a persistent offender is.
Q350 Steve Brine: How do you define it? We are always discussing it.
Professor Maruna: Yes, I am sure you are. It is not a term that I would use a great deal. It has more problems than it is worth as a term. To say "repeat conferences" is more concrete. To say, "What about the issue of multiple conferences?" is an important point-that is how I would approach it. From our research, and Koulla can speak to this from examples of young people she has worked with as well, there are certainly issues of dilution that come with multiple conferencing. We talked to young people who couldn’t quite remember whether it was a conference for this or a conference for that. They would be in conferences where they were not quite sure-"Which of the many things that I have done is this about, anyway?", and, "Who are you again?" That can become problematic at some level.
That said, the same thing could be said for multiple periods of incarceration. We know that the more times you spend in custody, the easier that process becomes. The same could be said for multiple probation orders and other criminal justice sanctions. It is a matter of thinking more creatively with repeat punishments that we don’t find we are doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome, but rather adjusting and not ratcheting up the sanctions, either. As you are aware, the research would suggest the opposite. The higher the sanctions, the more punitive things become, and the more likely you are going to see recidivism in some of the numbers we talked about earlier. It is not simply a matter of getting tougher in consecutive sessions, but to say, "Well, we’ve been here before. That didn’t work the last time. We are going to have to think differently to make sure that this does have a different outcome the next time."
Q351 Steve Brine: Include Youth were involved, were they, in criticising the prevalence of multiple conferences?
Koulla Yiasouma: Yes. Very briefly, as Shadd said, we would do a lot of work around the voice and experiences of young people going through the system, particularly those who have been subject to multiple conferences. They would say that it becomes a bureaucratic rote process after a certain while. However, as you heard, the Youth Justice Agency has got better at assessment pre-conference. I wouldn’t want to remove the option of conference to a young person just because they have had five. With better assessment, as we develop and progress through our journey in life, what did not work for us a year ago may work for us now. The problem with the system before the Youth Justice Review was that it was one size fits all. The movement away from that can only be welcomed. Young people were saying that that engagement just became, "I had a script. I read it because I did what I had to do to get myself out of that." I am not sure, if I was a victim, sitting in that room-direct or otherwise-how I would feel about that and whether I would be very satisfied with that process. As the agency gets better at assessment, hopefully, they will work out the ones who it might work with. Persistence isn’t the issue.
The other thing concerns young people who are charged with sexual and violent crimes. There needs to be a different way. Restorative justice could definitely be the way to go. It is whether the youth conference model can fit that where young people are conferenced at the beginning of a process, as opposed to when they have done a bit of work, when they have a bit more awareness and when the victim has done a bit of work around their own trauma. Often with sexual offending by young people, it is within the same family, so we’ve got parents involved. That process could be more effective through the treatment or the intervention. That is what we welcome. We look forward to seeing more of it in youth conferencing.
Q352 Steve Brine: I can see that Mr Weir is itching to speak. I saw you scribing.
Dave Weir: Yes, you’re thinking, "He’s up to something."
Koulla Yiasouma: He’s writing down pearls of wisdom.
Dave Weir: I wouldn’t argue with anything that Koulla has said.
Steve Brine: Quite right.
Dave Weir: I want to raise one minor point, which is that the conference tries to do two things: to address the behaviour and the needs of the young person; and to give the victim a voice. If we take the line that you can only have so many conferences, we are denying some victims an opportunity. I have no answers to that. That is a dilemma that needs to be resolved in each case, but it is one to bear in mind.
Q353 Steve Brine: Just jumping to the other end of the spectrum, the conferencing was not, as I understand it, intended to cover minor offences.
Dave Weir: Yes.
Q354 Steve Brine: Then they might see that as a disproportionate response, and think, "Come on, here. Sledgehammer, nut, crack." What has happened in practice?
Koulla Yiasouma: Include Youth has written quite a lot about what I will call the "diversionary conference"-the prosecution-led conference-and the Youth Justice Review talks a lot about that. Like you said, hammer and nuts come to mind.
Steve Brine: I am not suggesting that you hammer anyone’s nuts, but if it works for you.
Koulla Yiasouma: That would be a novel approach of using hammers to crack nuts.
As an organisation, and based on what we see the evidence saying and also using human rights instruments, we would suggest that the diversionary youth conference is disproportionate. We talked about community-based restorative justice programmes. Northern Ireland Alternatives is one of the schemes-to declare an interest, I am on its board-and would claim that 10% to 15% of the young people who go through their processes reoffend. You can make an argument as to whether their offending is as serious as the ones who get to court. We would argue it probably is, based on anecdotal evidence. You have seen the statistics that diversionary youth conferences have of 19.8%. When we had full-blown cautions here in Northern Ireland, statistics from 1998 show a 20% reoffending rate, so going into an inspector’s office in a police station with your parent, getting a wee bit of a telling-off seems-seems-based on the statistics, which you can do with what you will and you can see what I am doing, to have the same impact as a diversionary youth conference. We would argue that that money is better spent within the community, supporting communities to solve their own issues with their own young people.
Q355 Steve Brine: Does anyone want to add to that?
Professor Maruna: If I could, yes. There is certainly a money issue in the different tools it takes to crack that nut in that some are more expensive than others. Some also can do more harm. I referred a minute ago to the ratcheting-up. The research out of Edinburgh on labelling in young people, in particular, has shown that, even in efforts like a youth conferencing service that are meant to be rehabilitative and reparative and not seen as over- punitive, it can have a stigmatising, labelling effect. If they can be avoided for a lesser intervention that has similar outcomes, they should be.
I have a statistic on this. We call this process "net widening", whereby something that is meant to be an alternative for custody becomes an alternative for cases that would have been a slap on the wrist previously. This is from a chapter by Estelle Zinsstag and Tim Chapman in a book that is not yet published on restorative justice. It makes this argument that here in Northern Ireland the prosecution service may be over-enthusiastic in sending people to conferences who would not have found themselves in a youth court. They suggested that as many as 70% of young people who participated in diversionary youth conferences would not have been prosecuted in the youth courts. This may indicate the attraction of a restorative response, but it also indicates the risk that restorative justice can pull too many young people into this net of the formal justice system. So it is a concern. Again, that has been around. This net-widening was not invented with restorative conferencing. We have seen that with every good-intentioned programme that is meant to be an alternative to more serious sanctions. It can often pull in this wider population, and it is just a risk to look out for.
Q356 Chair: Another kind of conference that you indicated did not work very well was where there was no actual victim involvement.
Professor Maruna: Yes. That is right.
Q357 Chair: I explored with the previous group the distinction between personal victims and other sorts of victims, some of who were, in every sense, victims, be they family members who were dealing with a person who was in no position to take part in the conference, for example. Could you clarify your view of these rather different categories of victim and the effect that their involvement has on the conference system?
Professor Maruna: It is a good line to go down. It is not an either/or. Is it a black or white, either direct or indirect? You do have these shades of grey, however unfortunate that phrase is. All the evidence, including our small study, but much more importantly the international evidence, does weigh toward the closer the victim is to the actual offence, the more impact it would have on the young person involved in a conference. Yes, I do think that there are others who can make a similar impact on the spectrum that you were talking about. We heard about family members representing the victim in cases of a vulnerable victim and those sorts of things. That, I would presume, can also make that same kind of difference.
Q358 Mr Llwyd: The decision to refer the young person to a diversionary conference is made by the Public Prosecution Service. I understand that this can only take place where the offender has admitted the offence and also has consented to that process. We are aware of various concerns raised by children in Northern Ireland and also Include Youth, and I will just detail one or two of them. They are the fact that a diversionary youth conference results in a record held for 2.5 years and disclosable in certain prescribed circumstance, as well as the presence of a police officer at conferences and the protection of the child or young person’s rights, particularly the best-interest principle, within this process.
Can you explain any concern you might have about whether offenders, in those circumstances, properly consent to their participation in conferences and to conference plans?
Koulla Yiasouma: It is lovely when people read the stuff you write, so thank you for that. You write them and you don’t know what happens to them, so thank you.
Mr Llwyd: You flatterer.
Chair: Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days.
Koulla Yiasouma: That’s great. These are really fundamental issues. The three of us met yesterday to talk about this. The whole issue of informed consent and whether a child or young person going through the criminal justice system fully participates in the justice meted out to it is debatable. I will talk about the specifics of conferencing in a minute. Our evidence shows, when talking to young people, that they don’t really know what is going on from the minute they are arrested, certainly up until disposal, when they get whatever sentence they are going to get, and sometimes into the actual community intervention.
Q359 Mr Llwyd: Can I very rudely interrupt you?
Koulla Yiasouma: Of course you can.
Mr Llwyd: This is not to argue but just to ask you. When you talk about young people, typically what age are we now talking about?
Koulla Yiasouma: The young people that my organisation has spoken directly to would range between 16 and 21, and they are young people who are quite experienced within the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland. I will use an example of the police caution. When you ask a young person to tell you what it means, many of them still talk about the right to silence, and the right to silence went. That’s because we’ve got TV cop programmes. If you ask them to explain the caution, they don’t know the detail of what that means. Then you will say, "Did you ask in the police station?", and they will say, "I did. I asked for the PACE codes"-because the police are obliged to give it to you if you ask-"but I can’t read very well, so there is no way that I could read the PACE codes. But I did it to annoy the police, so the police thought I understood it and I didn’t."
Then you look at things like diversionary conferences. You get a letter through the post from the Public Prosecution Service laying out the statute, using quite informal legal language because they are obliged to do that. You are asking families-without labelling them, they are families with poor literacy and numeracy skills; often, the young people may have a learning disability or an undiagnosed mental health condition-to be able to read this letter and know that what it says to them is, "If you have agreed that you committed this offence and you’ve had a chat with your solicitor, if you had one, and you are going to plead guilty, you might want to take up the offer of a diversionary youth conference." These letters are not accessible. It is only when young people know a solicitor and have a solicitor that they often avail themselves of the conference.
Some work has recently been done in Northern Ireland in trying to find a different way of getting young people diverted out of the court system. We are not convinced that young people, their families, carers or legal guardians-whether it is conferencing or any process through the criminal justice system-are active participants in this system. Any youth justice practitioner will tell you that they often follow children out of the court, and say, "Did you understand what just happened?" They say, "No, I didn’t." They are standing in the lobby of the court explaining to them what they just signed up to. Or they get a letter for breach of proceedings, which says, "You breached this", and the young person then says, "But I didn’t know I agreed to it", or, "I can’t remember that I agreed to it." In fairness to the Youth Justice Agency-you heard what they said about breaches of conferencing-they are very proactive in explaining the conditions.
In summary, the youth conferencing process is better than other processes within our criminal justice system around informing consent once a child agrees to have a conference, but getting them there is incredibly hard work. The system misses and is not accessible to the young people it should be accessible to. Then all the rights come into effect. They are not getting justice and their best interests are not being met by any stretch of the imagination.
Q360 Mr Llwyd: I have come across, in practice, this idea of cautions and when they come back they have no idea what they have been through.
Koulla Yiasouma: Exactly.
Q361 Mr Llwyd: They are so excited and disturbed about being in a police station that they have no idea what they are signing up to. Could this problem that you have identified be addressed, for example, by ensuring that the youngster comes to meet with a police officer and a responsible adult on his or her behalf?
Koulla Yiasouma: It could be an advocate. Include Youth did work with the Criminal Justice Review in ’98; that shows how old I am. As with a child going through care proceedings who has a guardian ad litem assigned to them, we think that there could be an independent advocate assigned to a young person from the minute they enter the criminal justice system to the time they leave it, who stands besides them. It does not have to be a legal person. It could be a very highly skilled and highly trained volunteer, taking into account current fiscal issues, who stands beside them and confirms at every stage of the process that they understand what they are doing and what they are participating in. If that happens, that is a key way of protecting that child and making sure that they understand the consequences of their behaviours.
Q362 Chair: What is the risk here? Is it the young person’s failure to understand what is going on, which is a familiar problem, and quite an experienced adult could be confused with the court processes anyway? Are they ending up in a conference without having properly consented, in which case what harm is it doing them? They are getting into an appropriate way of dealing with their offence or not getting to a conference and, therefore, having perhaps a less satisfactory disposal from their point of view.
Koulla Yiasouma: Both.
Q363 Chair: It seems to me that there is a legitimate interest, is there not, in steering them towards something that is justified by their having committed an offence and is likely to lead to them not committing offences in the future?
Koulla Yiasouma: There is no argument. Of all the processes that we have in our criminal justice system, with all its challenges, youth conferencing and restorative processes per se, in our view, are the best way of going through this. Our argument is that, first, young people are not availing themselves of the opportunities because they don’t understand, but, secondly, they do not maximise the opportunity when they get there because, although you can’t say all young people are like that, obviously, a lot of them are not fully able to make the most of it. That is what we are saying. This is the way to go, but we can do a little bit more work around supporting our young people to make the most of the opportunities.
Q364 Mr Llwyd: By definition, they are immature, aren’t they?
Koulla Yiasouma: They are-very.
Q365 Mr Llwyd: I don’t know whether Mr Weir or Professor Maruna have any views on that.
Dave Weir: It is an issue that I have struggled with for some time and it is the application of the restorative justice principles to our existing criminal justice system that there has to be a victim and an offender. The particular cases that spring to mind are those where there have been two young people having a fight in a playground, for example. One of them, instantly, becomes an offender and the other becomes a victim, but what we don’t know is that the victim has been teasing this other chap for two years mercilessly. One of them has to apologise for it and the other one has to accept the apology.
The restorative process to me should be a vehicle by which that difference can be resolved without recourse to a criminal justice labelling system. In listening to your earlier question about low-level offending, it is one of the situations where I would very happily agree with John Graham and the Youth Justice Review that so much of this behaviour should be shoved down and dealt with by parents and schools at a very low level, and the criminal justice system shouldn’t get involved at all. I strayed slightly from your point, but I did want to say that we have confused or conflated two systems and they don’t necessarily sit perfectly together at all times.
Q366 Mr Llwyd: Professor, do you have any views on this issue?
Professor Maruna: Only to say-you heard it in the earlier testimony-that youth conferencing workers will tell you that it is the preparation before the conference that is the most important in lots of ways. There are other aspects as well, but it is crucial not to miss that build-up work that they do, and they are getting much better at preparing young people for what is going to go on and what to expect. It applies to the victims as well as the other parties that are going to go into the conference. Saving on that preparation work is a dangerous thing. Koulla’s evidence is a good example of why that would be. The more information and understanding you can get before you get to the conference is crucial.
Q367 Mr Llwyd: Going back to the issue of police officers attending, what role do they play in a conference and who would typically attend to support the youngster?
Koulla Yiasouma: As you know, the legislation states that police officers should be one of the mandatory attendees at the conference. We were not sure in ’98, and we are not sure now, why the police are there. The young people generally tell us that it winds them up because these young people typically do not have a positive relationship with police officers. It is not all entirely down to the young person’s behaviour why that relationship is not good. When they are going into a process where they are already stressed because they are going to meet a victim, they don’t need to see a police officer there. We are not sure, if there is a victim in the room, what it is that a police officer brings to the conference. The young person has accepted the offence and the circumstances of the offence, and our understanding from young people is that that is, very helpfully, gone through by conference co-ordinators in the preparatory session, so there is no issue around what happened. What is it that a police officer brings? We have met a couple of young people out of the hundreds we have spoken to about this who have refused a conference on the basis that, if there is a policeman in the room, they weren’t having it.
Q368 Mr Llwyd: I am playing the devil’s advocate with you now. The police officer would be one of many individuals in that room. I don’t know, but would he or she be uniformed normally, for example?
Dave Weir: Yes, they can be, although not necessarily.
Koulla Yiasouma: The conference is about that engagement between the victim and the person who has hurt them-in this case the young person. It is to maximise that opportunity. If you have somebody in the room or a uniform in the room-it is not about the individual necessarily-it makes that interaction more difficult because it winds up the young person. What is the purpose?
Q369 Mr Llwyd: As you say, there has been an admission anyway.
Koulla Yiasouma: Yes. The facts are accepted before they go into the room.
Dave Weir: The only reason I can think of is that in courts of summary jurisdiction-
Mr Llwyd: The old police courts.
Dave Weir: -the police officer goes into the box, gives a statement of the facts and then the magistrate makes his or her decision. It just seems like a hangover.
Koulla Yiasouma: We don’t need it. Have you researched this?
Professor Maruna: Yes. In our sample, two stories came out. One was simply that the symbolism of having the officer detracted from it, and it is just those kinds of relationships with the police that many young people have. It made a system that is already quite formal-for good reason, as it is a statutory system-all the more formal and all the less grass-roots restorative in the informalism that underpins a lot of the restorative approach.
On the other hand, there were examples of officers, who, maybe, were not as well coached in the restorative, reintegrative notion of these conferences and would use it as an opportunity to give a lecture to the young person. This was something that the young people defied against and found frustrating about the conference experience. On the other hand, there were some examples, but a smaller number, of the situation humanising the police officer for the young person. I have never sat down with a police officer before in this kind of context. We spoke about this. Likewise, it could go the other way. Officers could presumably, in a conferencing situation, get to see the young person, hear their story and see them as a whole person in that kind of context better than any usual interaction that the police might have with young people. Those kinds of interactions are probably best at the end of a conference or at a later stage, as Koulla was talking about earlier.
One of the recommendations of the report was, as important as the conference is in the initial part of the sentence, to have another conference where the police officer sees the work that the young person has done, maybe any accomplishments and any reparative actions they have taken, and then have a more reintegrative ritual to end the process, rather than the shaming that has to go initially after the offence.
Q370 Jeremy Corbyn: Coming back to the question of outcomes, in your research, Professor Maruna, you have identified a small number who have become worse as a result of conferencing, and they have been emboldened in some way.
Professor Maruna: Yes.
Q371 Jeremy Corbyn: Can you tell us more about that?
Professor Maruna: The important thing, and our language is not always the most careful in the report, is that we identified a sample that became worse, so to speak-that started offending more-but the key part of your sentence "as a result of conferencing" is where I would hesitate. In general, the kind of epistemology that sees the conference or any criminal justice intervention as a pharmaceutical and hears the outcomes of that pharmaceutical I would resist. The conference is a small part of any individual’s life, even with the extensive add-ons that result from a conference for those who have them. It is still a very minor part of these young people’s lives, and other factors no doubt had a part in these outcomes. That is only to say that we can’t necessarily pinpoint outcomes, good or bad, on the conference. We hope that the conference can work in positive ways with other factors in young people’s lives, in the communities and so forth. In the research, we identified what we hope were factors that seemed to work in a positive regard and others that seemed to work in a more negative regard, yes.
Q372 Jeremy Corbyn: How far down the line have you been tracking the young people who have been through conferences?
Professor Maruna: I forget the years on that, but that initial research was the first long-term outcome study that Northern Ireland had commissioned. That was back in 2007. On average, these were 18 months, but I should have reminded myself this morning about that. It has been that long. I just received funding, along with a coalition of partners, the Belgian team being the lead on this, to do another long-term study of restorative outcomes here in Northern Ireland. I hope to include certainly the Youth Conference Service, which is a partner on the grant, but also some of the community-based projects as well, and do another study, because things have changed a good bit since 2007 when we did that research.
As you heard earlier, it is awfully difficult to do follow-ups on a long term. Certainly, one of the things we found from our interviewees oftentimes was that the conferencing experience, as I mentioned, was a relatively minor part of their lives and did not have a huge impact on their life directions one way or another. I do look forward to doing this follow-up, largely because, as you say, the easiest evaluation we have is the immediate satisfaction after a conference. The next easiest is short-term follow-up windows. Really, what we need are these longer-view assessments of young people’s lives to situate the conferencing process and youth justice processes more generally in the context of a longer period.
Q373 Jeremy Corbyn: Do you feel that any of the young people who go into conferencing see it as a totally cynical exercise in which they can work the system, go to a conference, "fess up" or whatever, and then walk away fundamentally unchanged in their attitudes at the end of it?
Professor Maruna: I am certain because that is within any walk of life. Remarkably, we didn’t get that attitude-that sort of machismo-as much as you would in a study where we were talking to young people about custody, where there is a kind of, "I can do this. I can take this, and this was nothing to me. They didn’t touch inside of me." There was a great deal of resistance among our young people, in particular the pressure-we talked about this earlier-to say, "It was completely my fault." The pressure to apologise was not nearly the issue as this pressure to accept full responsibility. Many of them felt, 18 months or two years down the line, still angry about the dynamics of the conferencing situation, of feeling like everything was being pinned on them and there were people crying, and suddenly, "I was this bad guy." There were these kind of dynamics. There was less of the, "Oh, it was an hour. I was in the pub straight after and it was nothing to me."
There were a lot of those conferencing dynamics and the ritual of face-to-face interaction. It was very meaningful to people and did stick with them. Other parts of the sentence, however, and we talk about this in the report-where they were supposed to do a certain amount of hours in the community, write a letter or these kind of things-were largely forgotten. Their attitude was, "Oh, yeah, I did do something. I don’t remember what I did, but I had to do something. Then there was a paper signed and it was done." But they remembered the dynamics of the conference and most of them said it was not easy.
Q374 Jeremy Corbyn: I represent an area that is inner city with quite high levels of crime. There are, sadly, some young people who see custody, tagging and ASBOs as badges of honour.
Professor Maruna: Yes.
Q375 Jeremy Corbyn: They quite enjoy testing out whether or not they are breaching the tag or ASBO by going right to the edge of the area they are not supposed to be in, and all that sort of thing. They quite enjoy it all. They know full well that the system is not really capable, in staff numbers, of dealing with all of that. Do you get that experience here?
Koulla Yiasouma: Yes, and I am from the area that you represent.
Q376 Jeremy Corbyn: Where are you from?
Koulla Yiasouma: I was born and brought up in Highbury and Finsbury Park.
Q377 Jeremy Corbyn: Okay. So you are familiar with what I am saying.
Koulla Yiasouma: I am familiar.
Dave Weir: She has a record as well.
Koulla Yiasouma: That’s why I am here.
Chair: You are the second person today who has come from one of our constituencies.
Koulla Yiasouma: Also, just for the record, the first election I voted in was in 1983.
Jeremy Corbyn: We won’t go any further.
Koulla Yiasouma: I am very happy to be giving evidence before you, Mr Corbyn. Let’s be clear. People like me-the children’s rights, do-gooder liberal-type people-often blame society’s inequalities, the lack of rights and this and that for why young people go into crime. I am very comfortable with espousing these reasons for why young people go into crime. When young people stand up and talk about why they go into crime, they talk about what they did, what was wrong with them and decisions that they made. Young people, rarely, in our experience, seek to blame others for their behaviours.
Q378 Jeremy Corbyn: Let me interrupt you for a second. Last week, three of us-not of this particular panel-from our Committee spent about an hour with a group of young offenders in Feltham. After they had relaxed and begun to talk to us, all of them started talking about their own lives, and all of them felt that their own difficult upbringings and complications-and there were enormous complications-were the major factor. They became quite philosophical about it. Is that normal?
Koulla Yiasouma: That is right, but they see it as about them, as something that they did wrong. They also recognise their own powerlessness. Sometimes beating the system is their little bit of power. So young people will say, "I just did it to be in the good books," "I knew I did wrong but the conference wasn’t good for me," or, "I did it to stay out of jail." It’s their little way of doing what they have to do to get what they consider to be the least punitive outcome.
Q379 Chair: Do these personal factors emerge in the restorative process itself and in the conference process itself? Do young people within that actual context, when the victim is there, say, "I just went off the rails. I didn’t know what I was doing because everything was such a mess at home"?
Koulla Yiasouma: In the best conferences they do.
Q380 Chair: Does all that come out?
Professor Maruna: In theory, no. I don’t know why I have been pointed to, but I have sat in conferences where that has happened, where you have got everyone in tears over the victim’s story. The offender starts to tell his or her story and then, suddenly, the tears come out on all sides. You can get that even in a short one or two-hour conferencing situation. It is not a guarantee. You could also have a context that stays focused very much on the offence, and, "Let’s leave all those excuses out and let’s talk about this." So you could have any spectrum in a restorative conference, for sure.
Chair: Thank you very much indeed. We are very grateful. It is much appreciated. We have much to take home with us.
Mr Llwyd: It has been very interesting.