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Young people on youth diversion
Young people on how their contact with the youth justice system is influenced by their ethnic background.

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Young people's views

New (6 December 2022) research from the Centre for Justice Innovation explores the experiences of eleven children and young people currently in the youth justice system, and how they perceive interactions with the police, solicitors and youth justice services to have been influenced by their ethnic background.

Youth diversion

Youth diversion is a set of informal, non-statutory practices in which children and young people are provided the opportunity to avoid a statutory out of court disposal or a court prosecution if they complete community-based interventions. It offers children and young people a crucial alternative, allowing them to avoid the damaging consequences of formal justice processing and the likelihood of becoming deeper entrenched into the youth justice system. 

However, at present, there are concerns that diversion is not equally available to all, potentially exacerbating the racial disparities that already mar the system. Given the significant and potentially life-long harms which come with unnecessary involvement in the justice system, ensuring equal access to diversion is essential.

Key findings

The key findings from the report were organised into four themes:

1: Children and young people had mixed experiences of professionals during the diversion process.

Young people consulted for the project described experiences including what they understood to be racist and discriminatory practice by the police. They also said that the legal process could feel complicated and unclear and was not always explained in a way that they could easily comprehend.

However, there were many examples of good practice, including: culturally informed practice by solicitors, supportive guidance given by youth justice practitioners and some police officers actively listening and using a calm, respectful approach.

2: Some children and young people did not understand the outcomes of their criminal justice engagement.

While some children and young people were able to clearly outline what they were required to do and the potential consequences of non-engagement, others were unsure about the specific details of their outcome and what this entailed. In particular, there appeared to be some confusion about criminal record implications of diversion. Some children and young people were unaware that there was the possibility of a criminal record being flagged on a future enhanced police check. The research also found that some solicitors had limited knowledge of diversion which is concerning due to their advocacy role.

3: Children and young people stressed the importance of positive communication and working relationships.

“They were treating me like an actual human. They were treating me like a normal person. … They were treating me with respect and decency, you know what I’m saying?”

There were many positive examples given to build upon, including children and young people feeling cared for and supported through their interactions with youth justice service practitioners.

4: The appropriateness and quality of diversion interventions was variable.

“I went to a virtual reality session. It was about knife crime… it wasn’t really useful. I don’t business with knives”

There was some evidence of child-centred practice when setting interventions, for example sporting activities provided for children and young people who enjoyed exercise.

However, many of the children and young people interviewed described issues with their interventions, for example difficulties with travel to appointments and the use of generic interventions that did not relate to their offence or circumstances.

Recommendations

The report makes a series of detailed recommendations aimed at the police, youth justice practitioners and solicitors. These include implementing anti-racist and anti-discriminatory practices and ensuring that monitoring is in place to identify racial disparity.

The reports also recommends the importance of making sure that information about the legal processes and consequences of diversion is both accurate and easy to understand.

It also urges that tailored intervention plans are co-produced with children and young people to ensure that they are relevant to the individual.

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