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Police rapped on the knuckles for not promoting successful youth justice work

Police work to keep children out of prison was applauded by inspectors

Successful police work to divert children away from the criminal justice system is a “missed opportunity” for publicity, according to an HMIC report.

A joint HM Inspectorate of Probation and HM Inspectorate of      Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services report published Wednesday praised strong relationships between the two services and an “impressive” commitment to reroute low-level youth offenders.

Between March 2007 and March 2016, the number of child first-time criminal justice entrants decreased by 84 per cent and the number of cautions, conditional cautions, reprimands and final warnings dropped by 86.3 per cent according to the report.

The 12-month reoffending rate of children who received a caution or community or custodial sentence was 30.7 per cent and 51.3 per cent respectively from April 2014-March 2015.

Eighty per cent of the areas inspected reported they had a joint decision making process between police and youth offending teams.

“We also saw a commitment to youth justice led by chief officers in every police force – this permeated throughout their organisations, as evidenced during our interviews with police officers,” the report said.

“The success of out-of-court disposals locally and nationally shows the effectiveness of the youth justice system in achieving its objective to prevent offending.”

“We did not, however, find much evidence that this was used as an opportunity to build wider public understanding of and confidence in this work. This was a missed opportunity.”

Southampton found that the reoffending rate following a community resolution with interventions was substantially less than for other criminal justice disposals, the report said.  

County Durham reported that the reoffending rate there following a community resolution in which the Youth Offending Team (YOT) had become involved (known locally as a pre-caution disposal) was an impressively low 16 per cent.

“There was a universal recognition of the importance of achieving positive outcomes for children and their futures, while also recognising the impact on victims. Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) were an important strategic funding partner in many areas. 

"The commitment to out-of-court disposal work by the police, both strategically and operationally, was always good and sometimes impressive.

“Operational police staff clearly understood the expectations on them for out-of-court disposals. 

"All forces had systems to prevent excessive use of police-issued community resolutions without reference to the YOT, although their effectiveness was unclear.

“The successes arising from out-of-court work receive little or no national or local publicity, yet good coverage could increase sentencer and public confidence,” the report added.

But inspectors were concerned that in some cases the assessment process gave “insufficient attention” to the risk of harm to victims and the safety of the child involved although YOTs “generally did the right things…once they had the opportunity to start work”[ with the children].

The College of Policing and Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) came under fire for a “discrepancy” in their guidance deemed “unhelpful” by inspectors.

The Youth Justice Board and College of Policing say the offender must admit guilt before a community resolution can be considered but the ACPO advice is that the offender must “accept responsibility.”

“There were, however, a very small number of cases in which it was not clear that an admission of responsibility had been made. 

"This is potentially a serious issue. It is compounded by many children being unaware of the implications of accepting a community resolution on future DBS checks,” the report said.

Inspectors found many children and practitioners were unaware the details of out-of-court disposals can be disclosed on an enhanced DBS check under certain conditions

 “We recognise that there are strong reasons why information needs to be retained to support the proper functions of the police and prosecution services.

“The current situation whereby children may be unclear as to whether to disclose receipt of a disposal is not, however, consistent with the objective of diverting children from the criminal justice system, and making sure that they have the best opportunity for positive outcomes in their lives.”

Chief Constables were also advised to put consistent policies in place to make sure fingerprints and other biometric information is taken in youth caution cases and to put a national recording system in place to monitor how many children go on to receive further disposals or convictions after community resolution.

Dame Glenys Stacey, HM Chief Inspector of Probation, said: “Preventing children from starting to offend, or their offending behaviour becoming entrenched, is good for potential victims, good for the children themselves, and saves the considerable costs incurred if further offences happen.

“We understand this work is a priority for the government, as it has been for previous administrations. Making sure that it is as effective as it can be, that it improves the life chances of the children involved, and that it is sustained should be good for all of us.”

There are three types of out-of-court disposals for children who commit low-level offences – community resolutions youth cautions, and youth conditional cautions.

Inspectors visited YOTs in County Durham, Flintshire, Leeds, Northamptonshire, South Gloucestershire, Southampton and Surrey.