Bridging gaps and changing tracks
Earlier this week (6th February 2024) the Alliance for Youth Justice published a report calling for reforms to ensure that as racially minoritised young people in the criminal justice system turn 18, the ‘by and for’ voluntary and community sector is there to support them – bridging gaps in statutory services and guiding young people to brighter futures.
Bridging gaps and changing tracks: Supporting racially minoritised young people in the transition to adulthood in the criminal justice system is the first in a series of briefings from a project exploring the experiences of young people transitioning into adulthood, funded by the Barrow Cadbury Trust. It draws on findings from our evidence review; an expert seminar with professionals from the criminal justice, racial justice, and voluntary and community sectors; visits and meetings with practitioners and civil servants; and interviews with racially minoritised young people.
A cliff edge
Young people turning 18 in the justice system face a steep cliff edge. Cumulative impacts of disadvantage and discrimination mean racially minoritised children are disproportionately likely to be criminalised and experience this transition, and to do so with unmet needs.
The AYJ research raises concerns that the destabilising impacts of the transition to adult services are compounded by deficits in support before and after turning 18, due to:
Stereotyping, racial prejudices and unconscious biases such as ‘adultification’ shaping the way practitioners respond to young people in the justice system
A lack of cultural and age-specific competencies in the justice system workforce, and a system that is not set up to meet racially minoritised young people’s needs
Experiences of being let down or targeted by professionals creating mistrust among racially minoritised young people, impacting engagement with statutory services
“It was just like a knife in the heart because it’s like therapy gone, all support systems gone. Mum said You’re an adult now. I was already out of the house anyway by 18 but it was just like, oh shit, I’m on my own.”
The transition to adulthood is a pivotal point. With the right support in place, it could be an opportunity to address childhood experiences and prevent inequalities widening. Young people and professionals who took part in this research thought that quality support should have the ten key characteristics outlined in the infographic below:
The voluntary and community sector (VCS), particularly organisations led by and for Black and racially minoritised communities, has a vital role to play in addressing shortcomings of statutory services, providing tailored, authentic support that focusses on empowerment and fosters trust and engagement. The report argues that these organisations must be treated as a crucial partner in working with young people alongside the criminal justice system.
“The only people that actually managed to get through to me when I was younger were lived experience mentors, because as a young person to hear somebody tell you that they went through it… it was a lot deeper.”
However, culturally appropriate services are rarely commissioned. Persistent barriers within the funding and commissioning system exclude smaller, specialised community organisations.
The report calls for the government, funders and commissioners to review their relationship with the VCS and reform commissioning processes, including:
Ensuring Probation provide dedicated commissioned services for young people
Promoting a localised approach to commissioning
Where VCS organisations work across the 16-25 age range, aligning commissioning between the local YOT and Probation
Simplifying application processes and making them more flexible
Issuing longer contracts to reduce the constant fundraising cycle
Amending evaluation processes and criteria to reduce the burden and ensure various positive outcomes can be captured
The report makes a number of recommendations to policymakers setting out the concerted effort that is needed to ensure specialist, age-appropriate, culturally relevant, and strengths-based support is available to smooth the transition to adulthood, address racial injustice and encourage brighter futures for racially minoritised young people.