Rapid Evidence Assessment
It’s hard to quibble with NOMS’ decision to ask Professor James McGuire to conduct a rapid evidence assessment (REA) of what works in reducing reoffending with young adults. Jim McGuire has spent his working life examining offending behaviour and in particular “What works” as most probation officers of a certain age can testify.
The timing of the REA is also very apposite, during the consultation period of the Justice Committee’s inquiry into the treatment of young adult offenders in the criminal justice system (get your views in by 30 September 2015).
Young adult offenders are defined as those aged between 18-25 years old and Professor McGuire reviewed 10 research studies to inform his findings.
Young adult offenders
Young adults are responsible for a disproportionately high volume of police-recorded crime, and while those aged 18–25 make up only a tenth of the British population, they account for a third of prison admissions, and a third of the overall social and economic costs of crime. The early adult years are sometimes described as a ‘turning point’ during which processes are at work that will influence whether or not individuals continue to offend, or succeed in breaking away from a longer-term criminal career path. The focus of the REA was on what interventions can facilitate these young adult offenders desisting from crime.
The key findings of the REA were:
- Six of the ten studies observed an impact on recidivism.
- The strongest evidence of sizeable reductions in recidivism among young adults comes from two studies of structured parole re-entry systems.
- There is evidence of reductions in criminal recidivism of several types following prison-based offending behaviour programmes and from a structured high-intensity detention regime.
- There is some evidence that following victim–offender conferences, applying an RJ model, there are reductions in reoffending, at least when focused on property crimes.
- A seventh study examining whether treatment for mental health problems had an effect in reducing criminal charges also yielded positive findings but its findings are not wholly conclusive and are difficult to interpret.
- The more military-style (Military Corrective Training Centre, MCTC) detention regime, in common with other studies of this type of intervention, produced no positive outcomes.
Critical success factors
Professor McGuire makes it clear that conclusions can only be tentative given the small number of studies reviewed (there are many more research studies aimed at juvenile offenders, but far fewer targeted at the young adult age group). Nevertheless, there are some helpful critical success factors upon which to build more effective approaches:
- For those given custodial sentences, relatively high levels of structure are beneficial, but should include treatment/rehabilitative elements. In addition to focusing on offending behaviour, it is certainly advisable that any such interventions also address issues of likely concern to the age group.
- The apparently heightened sensitivity that individuals in this age range may have to the opinions and perceptions of peers could be addressed in preparatory sessions prior to embarking on offence-focused work. Such sessions could also address relationship or stress-management issues that may be preoccupying individuals within this age range to an even greater extent than they do other age groups.
- The process of release and re-entry is more likely to be successful if it is planned and structured and contains effective rehabilitative elements.
Like all good researchers, McGuire concludes his REA with a plea for more research; specifically a programme of qualitative research focused on young adult offenders’ perceptions of their prospects before and after release from custody.