I was so disappointed by the report today on the reoffending rates for children leaving the JJC. I was however encouraged by the response from the Children's Commissioner that there is a need for a complex and comprehensive response to children who end up in the Justice System.
Having worked for most of my career in the Justice system, I applaud the view that austerity has had an enormous impact both on the resources and the results of all services working with our most vulnerable young people. It is well known and historically documented that when poverty increases so does crime.
It is frustrating and disheartening to have the knowledge that not very long ago the exact strategy that is now being called for with renewed vigour existed within the Probation and Youth Justice services for the exact children we are now said to be failing.
The joint venture working with the most difficult to reach, persistent, serious and vulnerable young people in the justice system returned encouraging results.
In it’s pilot years this venture was well resourced, politically supported and had strong restorative leadership from within the organisations.
It promoted the strengthening of families, access to mental health, drugs services, community activity and inclusion and programmes to address anti social behaviour. It did this by promoting a single worker for the child and family, looking at the pathways that brought them to the justice system and designing personal pathways out of offending. It streamlined and simplified otherwise chaotic and fractured services, which often operated under different and conflicting models and ethos'.
It provided a holistic response to a child's quality of life, their view of themselves and connections to their communities through circles of support and accountability which brought together all services working with the child to both support and hold the child to account and for the child to hold those services to account for what they were (or were not) providing for them to assist them to desist from offending.
The process crossed the education, justice, health and care sectors. The lessons from it were many. But as is often the case with projects that are set up under one leadership, it was ended with another.
In my opinion Restorative Justice works (when properly resourced and supported) for a significant number of young people early in their offending journey. For those causing more serious harm and persisting in their offending it can reduce the seriousness of their offending and provide space to do important work around re-connection and trauma, when it is properly supported, led and resourced.
The statistics simplify a complex issue. A child who has been incarcerated for a very serious offence of violence could be deemed a recidivist if they reoffend with a minor offence on release. For example a drugs possession or criminal damage offence as opposed to an offence against a person. And yet in many ways this would be seen in the whole picture as a reducing of risk or harm in comparison to that individual's previous behaviours. The statistics require colour to make sense of how complex an issue this is.
I welcome the need for a renewed focus on joined up services, on preventing children in care regressing into the justice system, but caution the idea that restorative justice should be thrown out with the bath water.