Yesterday (15 July 2021), Revolving Doors published an Evidence Review on diverting young adults away from the cycle of crisis and crime. The review is part of the charity’s New Generation Policing Programme, which has been working with Police and Crime Commissioners and police forces across the country to divert young adults (18–25-year-olds) who commit repeat low-level crime away from the criminal justice system and into support. One of the findings of the project is that out of court disposals are an opportunity to intervene and provide support to meet the health and human needs of young adults. Furthermore, out of court disposals can offer a rehabilitative alternative to prevent reoffending or reduce escalation of offending. However, police forces usually hit a major barrier when they decide to set up schemes for young adults: they have very little evidence on ‘what works’ for supporting young adults who commit often repeat low-level crime due to unmet multiple needs.
The review aims to address that gap by setting out the key elements of support that can be provided as part of an out of court disposal that can turn young adults lives around. It is important to note that this paper does not claim to be a systematic review, rather it takes a practical approach to summarise relevant evidence to inform decision-making and highlight gaps in both practice and knowledge. The primary evidence in relation to diversion, reoffending and young adults are based on the Crime Reduction Toolkit developed by the College of Policing. The secondary evidence on good practice case studies are based on a desktop review of, often, qualitative evaluations and reviews of practitioners and policy experts who attended the roundtables.
Why young adults?
The review focuses on young adults for two main reasons. Firstly, this age group are most likely to be in contact with the criminal justice system. Young adults, aged 18-25, represent 10% of the UK population, but over 30% of all police cases. There is strong evidence from neuroscience, psychology and criminology that the brain development is not complete until a person’s mid-20s, and the last elements to develop are forward planning, rational thinking and empathy. We know that poverty, trauma, health and human needs make young adults vulnerable, but also make them more likely to come into contact with the police. The figure for adults convicted of an indictable offence with a history of repeat
offending is now at its highest ever level, accounting for nearly two-fifths (39%) of the offending population. Furthermore, the reoffending rate for young adults in the revolving door is significantly higher than all other young adults in the criminal justice system, and the more entrenched the young adult is in the revolving door, the more likely they are they to reoffend.
Secondly, any progress made by a child in the youth justice system is interrupted by the ‘cliff edge’ of turning 18. Vulnerabilities such as mental health needs can be made more acute by the transition from youth justice and child social care services into the adult system. Those growing up in multiple deprivation are more reliant on statutory agencies for support, and turning 18 can be like a cliff edge, when state responsibility is suddenly withdrawn.
The key findings of the reviews are:
- People experience interventions differently based on their age, and related learning needs and circumstances. Therefore, it is important that young people and adults are not seen as a homogeneous group; interventions should be tailored to meet the needs of specific groups and research should focus on specific experiences to support this process.
- Cognitive Behavioural Therapy has the strongest evidence base and has proven successful for young people, young adults and adults more generally. The only other intervention that has systematic evidence of effectiveness for young adults in particular is mentoring.
- There is a need to better understand the different options that young adults can be diverted into, and good practice and challenges within this. There is a much greater array of literature focusing on crime prevention and reducing reoffending, compared to research about diversion. Although there was evidence on numerous interventions, this was rarely focused on 18–25-year-olds. Furthermore, many studies included in this report were international – there was less available research for England and Wales.
- However, the lack of evidence should not lead to a lack of action. Although there is a need for more research and evidence, the need to divert young adults remains key, so that their needs can be addressed to prevent them from entering the revolving door of crisis and crime.
The review brings together the latest evidence and emerging good practice that are shown to support young adults to move away from the criminal justice system. It highlights the need to scale up investment in police assisted diversion services to meet the ever-rising time demand on policing and courts.
Evidence from this review recommends that police-assisted diversion services should:
- Avoid prosecutions for low-level and non-violent crimes where possible to have the most impact
- Deliver tailored responses to meet the specific needs of young adults’ health, human needs and maturity
- Apply trauma-informed approaches to understand root causes of crime and minimise harm
- Adopt a gender-specific and culturally competent approach to achieve equable outcomes for young adults in the criminal justice system
- Promote a pro-social identity that builds on their strengths and abilities and empowers them to shape their own future
- Link young adults and their families into sustainable and long-term support to prevent future crises.