A new briefing from the Centre for Justice Innovation argues that point-of-arrest youth diversion can reduce crime, keep communities safer, cut costs, and create better outcomes for children. Point-of-arrest youth diversion gives young people the chance to avoid both formal processing (either through an out of court disposal or a prosecution in court) and a criminal record, in return for the completion of community-based interventions.
The Centre’s previous research identified that, of the 152 Youth Offending Teams (YOTs) in England and Wales, 133 have a point-of-arrest diversion scheme. However, the recent Probation Inspectorate report on Youth Offending services found an “inconsistent approach across the country” and highlighted that the lack of consistent and specific national funding for diversion places the existence of diversion in “a tenuous position.”
The briefing, written by Duncan Lugton, calls on policymakers to take action to strengthen evidence-led point-of-arrest youth diversion and makes a number of specific recommendations:
- The Youth Justice Board should publish clear national guidance on effective, evidence based point-of-arrest diversion practice;
- HMI Probation should ensure that the Youth Inspection Framework reflects current best evidence on youth diversion, and the expertise of practitioners;
- The Youth Justice Board should make available more links to good practice and examples of how to run effective youth diversion schemes in their good practice hub;
- The Ministry of Justice should ensure that the funding formulae for the statutory funding contribution to YOTs and the Youth Justice Grant reflects the work done on youth diversion;
- The Youth Justice Board, Police and Crime Commissioners and the National Police Chiefs’ Council should agree a new set of data recording standards and systems to accurately record and publish youth diversion activity.
What is point of arrest youth diversion?
Point-of-arrest youth diversion offers a constructive, evidence-led approach to low-level crime committed by those under the age of 18, providing an alternative to the prosecution of children through the youth justice system.
Following a referral from the police or an Out of Court Panel, point-of-arrest youth diversion gives young people the chance to avoid both formal processing (either through an out of court disposal or a prosecution in court) and a criminal record, in return for the completion of community-based interventions.
The evidence base
The evidence shows that point-of-arrest youth diversion can reduce crime, keep communities safer, cut costs, and create better outcomes for children. Extensive research into ‘delinquent’ and ‘antisocial behaviour’ shows that the vast majority of young people ‘grow out of it’ over time, as they mature and improve their self-control.
However, formal processing by the justice system can knock young people off this natural trajectory of improvement, because this processing extends and deepens young people’s criminal careers. Research consistently shows that young
people who were processed by the justice system have higher rates of re-offending than those who were diverted.
Point-of-arrest youth diversion is also more cost effective than standard processing. Diversion avoids immediate costs associated with processing an arrest, conducting prosecution, and running courts. Moreover, as young people who are referred to diversion are less likely to commit further offences, diversion saves short to medium term costs associated with re-offending.
Furthermore, point-of-arrest youth diversion saves longer term future costs as unmet needs (such as physical and mental health needs) are identified and addressed at an early stage, before they escalate and become more difficult and costly to manage.
The Centre argues that YOTs need clearer guidance and good practice examples about diversion. Although there is current guidance in existence, this focuses more on the circumstances in which diversion should be used rather than how diversion schemes should be best run.
YOTs are not directly funded to carry out diversion work even though in some YOTs the number of diversion cases can now outnumber their statutory caseload. The briefing recommends that the MoJ should ensure that the funding formula for the statutory funding contribution to YOTs reflects the work done on youth diversion.
Point-of-arrest youth diversion can reduce crime, keep communities safer, cut costs, and create better outcomes for children. This area of work has been developed by practitioners from the bottom-up and is now available in almost every local authority in England and Wales.
The briefing asks national policymakers to take action to strengthen youth diversion by promoting clearer national guidance that reflects current best evidence; additional examples of good practice, a funding system that properly reflects youth diversion work; and a new set of data recording standards and systems to accurately record and publish youth diversion activity.