What happens to young offenders once they have served their convictions?

Government statistics show that the number of young offenders fell in 2010/11, but what happens to those offenders after they have served their convictions?  What makes them reform or re-offend?

The Youth Agenda interviews Rt Hon David Miliband MP, Mark Johnson of User Voice and Tom Sackville of Catch22.

The figures on youth justice

 The Youth Justice Statistics 2010/11, published by the Ministry of Justice on 12 January 2012, show that the number of young people (aged 10-17) in the Youth Justice System continued to fall in 2010/11.  Since 2007/08 there have been 55% fewer young people coming into the system, 30% fewer young people in custody and 29% fewer re-offences by young people.

Overall, there were 176,511 proven offences by young people in 2010/11, down 11% from 2009/10.

In the last year there has been a notable reduction in certain offences by young people, in particular: motoring offences (down 24%), breach of a statutory order (down 19%) and theft offences (down 18%).  At the same time, some offence types saw an increase, such as robbery (up 11%) and burglary (up 2%). In 2010/11, there were 45,519 first time entrants to the youth justice system, 50% less than 2000/01.

While these statistics on youth offending appear to be positive, there are still major concerns surrounding the treatment of young people leaving the Youth Justice System and the care and rehabilitation offered to ex-offenders.

In particular, there are concerns about the numbers of re-offenders, and what can be done to prevent this.

New lives but old labels

The Youth Agenda interviewed Mark Johnson, founder of User Voice, a charity which aims to reduce offending. Mark is an ex-offender with a history of serious crime, homelessness and drug abuse. He went through rehabilitation at the age of 29, and has since become a leading figure in the criminal justice reform movement.

Mark believes that rather than one factor contributing to re-offending, it’s a failure of the whole system. He thinks support from the government should be focused firstly on preventing crime but that once offenders are in the criminal justice system there needs to be ‘robust services’ for mental health, addiction, and violent and dysfunctional behaviour.

When asked about government incentives for employers to take on young ex-offenders, he said the government ‘should practice what they preach’ and employ ex-offenders themselves.

Mark says any sentence is a life-sentence because of the stigma surrounding criminal convictions, so it’s also important to share success stories:

“It’s so difficult to talk about the positives around people breaking the cycle of crime. Some people that I’ve met make really profound contributions to society but they’re still labelled from the past, and for me the only culprit, the real culprit, is the media.”

The Youth Agenda interviews the founder of User Voice, Mark Johnson

The Youth Agenda also interviewed Rt Hon David Miliband, Labour MP for South Shields, who said:

“One has a sense that the fear amongst the general public and amongst employers is almost extra high among young offenders than it is for offenders in general.”

What is a ‘troubled family’?

David believes the key to preventing re-offending is to ‘nip it in the bud’ with employment and housing, especially for those coming out of prison with nowhere to go.

Previous research has shown that young people coming into contact with the Youth Justice System often have a range of difficulties, such as substance misuse, and multiple needs. These factors are also associated with re-offending.

David says mental health and drug and alcohol abuse are ‘two absolutely key drivers’ in re-offenders. He says health and local authorities are coming together on Health and Wellbeing boards, and in some cases offering personal support for each ex-offender, which he believes is ‘the right way’.

When asked about the government’s Troubled Families programme, in which Prime Minister David Cameron pledged to turn around the lives of 120,000 troubled families in the next three years, David said he has ‘real concerns’.

He says the government itself has competing definitions of what constitutes a ‘troubled’ family and that some of the definitions don’t refer to criminal activity at all. David says the programme “definitely has the potential to do good, but has to be attaching the right kind of intervention to the appropriate groups”.

The Youth Agenda speaks with Rt Hon David Miliband MP

Tom Sackville, head of Catch22’s gangs unit, also has concerns about the Troubled Families programme. He wants to know who is going to be supported and what the government is proposing in terms of support systems.

Tom believes it’s important that the programme be about positive interventions and support and not about labelling those families, and also about recognising the range of issues that those families face.

When asked about incentives for employers to take on young ex-offenders, Tom said we need more ‘access to work programs’. He also said ‘it’s about training employers as much as about training those that are serving the sentences’, in order to break the cycles of unemployment in generations of families and in the community.

Tom thinks there should be a greater focus on care-leavers especially, as they are ‘significantly over-represented within custodial establishments and under-represented in employment’.

Statistics show that 25% of young offenders have had contact with mental health facilities before they commit a crime.  Both Mark and Tom believe that it’s important to continue to support ex-offenders with mental health problems after rehabilitation.

Tom says we need to make mental health facilities more accessible and approachable: “take mental health services to young people rather than the other way around.”

The Youth Agenda speaks with Tom Sackville of Catch22


Related linksFor more information on youth offending figures, government policies and what help is available for young offenders

Youth justice statistics – from the Youth Justice Board and the Ministry of Justice

Youth crime in context – from Civitas

About the ‘Troubled Families’ project

User Voice


Riots One Year On: Have we done enough to prevent them happening again?

Will a minimum alcohol price stop young people from misusing alcohol?


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