Spotlight on young adults
Earlier this week (31 January 2018), Revolving Doors Agency and Transition to Adulthood Alliance published a new report, Spotlight on Young Adults. The report showcases some of the innovative work being undertaken by Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) across the country to improve criminal justice responses for young adults (18-25), the most likely age group to come into contact with the police both as victims and as offenders.
David Lammy (see my summary of the Lammy Review here) has called for maturity to factor into the criminal justice decision making process. Pushing this further, The Justice Select Committee has called to extend statutory support provided to under 18’s, as they navigate the criminal justice system, to the 18-25 cohort. The Committee also pressed for legislative changes to recognise the developmental status of the 18-25 age group (see their report here).
PCCs are in an important position to show leadership on this issue, cutting across the youth and adults systems with a key strategic and commissioning role. This report shines a light on a number of case studies that highlight how PCCs have delivered a distinct approach to the 18-25 cohort.
Young adults (18-24) are the most likely age group to come into contact with the police, both as victims and as offenders. Nationally, they represent just 10% of the population, but account for around 30 to 40 per cent of criminal justice caseloads – including police time, probation supervision and prison entrants. To give this further context, the 18-24 cohort account for 17 per cent of the total prison population and make up a quarter of people serving community orders or suspended sentences.
They also have the highest reconviction rates of any other demographic that comes into contact with the criminal justice system. With over 75 per cent of young adults released from prison being re-convicted within two years of release, making them a high priority group for PCCs across the country.
However, young adults are the most likely age group to ‘grow out of crime’ and journey towards becoming active members of society when the right interventions are put in place. This is hindered when criminal justice responses fail to provide support for their multiple needs and enable desistance as they transition from youth to adult services at the age of 18 – a divide defined by age rather than maturity – and into a system of criminal justice interventions aimed at adults, which are rarely effective in preventing further reoffending by young adults.
While this is often a feature of a wide range of public services that come into contact with this age group, other parts of public policy have gone some way to catch up with the notion that adolescence now extends well into the mid-20s. For example, many mental health services now extend their Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services strategically up to 25, and care leaver entitlements now extend into the 20s.
Recent policy developments have intensified interest in the young adult age group, with the publication of the Lammy Review shining a light on the steady increase of BAME young adults in prison, in proportion to the overall prison population. The review also tabled specific recommendations aimed towards young adults, proposing that the criminal justice decision making process should take into account maturity and that practitioners should have the option to extend youth justice support structures to offenders over the age of 18 with low maturity.
Examples of innovation
The report highlights four main ways in which Police and Crime Commissioners are responding to the needs of this priority group:
- Diversion from the Criminal Justice System: e.g. exploring opportunities to tailor out of court disposals more effectively for first time offences and ensuring mental health liaison and diversion services respond to the specific needs of this age group.
- Targeted support throughout the transition to adulthood: e.g. Leicestershire introducing a dedicated young adults project; and Gloucestershire and South Yorkshire commissioning young-adult specific support services.
- Extending existing youth services: including exploring how the principles of the youth offending team model can be applied to young adults, and developing opportunities to link young adults back into these teams, as piloted in South Wales.
- Engaging with young adults to harness the power of lived experience, in developing their strategies, many of these PCCs have sought to engage with young adults, including those with experience of offending. An approach demonstrated by Leicestershire’s Young Adults Project (YAP!) Shadow Board.