Alcohol in the system
Young people must have opportunities to learn about the risks associated with alcohol misuse and more health and social options made available to young people who misuse alcohol, keeping them outside of the criminal justice system and improving their life chances.
That’s the conclusion of a recent (25 October 2016) report from Alcohol Concern into alcohol and youth offending titled: Alcohol in the system.
The report was based on a year long project based in London which aimed to place a core group of 20 young people who were both known to the criminal justice system and who drank alcohol at the heart of the study. There were also wider consultation events with more young people.
The report highlighted nine main findings:
- Young people have grown up surrounded by a culture of drinking and binge drinking in the UK, however their access to alcohol information and support is patchy.
- Young people who drink alcohol are especially vulnerable to the effects of alcohol and are more likely to end up in dangerous and confrontational situations.
- The links between excessive alcohol consumption and violence affecting young people are well established.
- Up to 41% of young offenders had drunk alcohol at the time of their offence.
- A high number of young people cited that ‘drinking less’ would stop them reoffending.
- Criminal records acquired in childhood can have a long term detrimental impact on the lives of many young people, worsening their prospects and outcomes.
- Current screening and assessment for alcohol use amongst young people is patchy, opportunities are being missed.
- Alternative options to the criminal justice system, such as recognising alcohol misuse as a public health issue, are required for young people who carry out criminal acts while under the influence of alcohol.
- Actively involving young people in the design and delivery of services is an effective way of meeting needs and building their capacity to become active citizens.
The report argues that alcohol needs to be made a greater priority with regard to risky behaviours amongst young people. It advocates for alcohol misuse to be seen and treated as a public health issue, rather than purely a criminal justice issue.
The report makes 10 specific recommendations:
Prevention and building resilience
The report recommends that:
- All youth workers, school nurses and teachers with pastoral support roles to be trained to deliver Identification and Brief Advice (IBA).
- In addition, all practitioners involved with assessments or “diversionary work” need a ‘level’ of competency in being able to talk about alcohol with young people.
- Personal, Social, Health and Economic education (PSHE) should be made statutory in schools, incorporating peer education and specifically addressing alcohol. Teachers or other educators/ counsellors trained with competency to discuss and deliver alcohol education in schools, using evidence-based approaches.
- Increased funding and recognition to value the important role of diversionary and positive engagement activities using youth work processes.
Risks, needs and responses
The report emphasises the importance of both identifying young people for whom alcohol is an issue and ensuring there are a range of health and social responses available:
- More effective and vigorous screening for alcohol in all assessments with young people when they get ‘into trouble’.
- Utilise the NHS England’s’ commissioned Liaison and Diversion trial site to screen for problematic alcohol use in custody suites and refer to appropriate support.
- Pilot a Peer Court in London based on the Hampshire model for low level offences, including alcohol related offences.
- Refer young people to a recognised “6-week programme” incorporating peer education to address problematic alcohol use.
Finally, the report argues that it is important that we develop a much better understanding of the relationship between alcohol, young people and crime; it calls for:
- Annual accurate recording of alcohol related offences amongst young people, under 24 years, in London.
- The creation of a forum or delegate responsibility for on-going involvement of young people reviewing alcohol and young people entering the Criminal Justice System and the effectiveness of alternatives, and offer opportunities for young offenders within this.
You can see a summary of the report via the YouTube video below: