Yesterday’s (19 April 2022) new briefing from the Centre for Justice Innovation (CJI) has, unusually in the justice sector at the moment, a very positive tone. Focused on diversion from the youth justice system, the briefing reflects on the incremental but important changes that have been taking place over the last two years and is a practical and helpful guide to any practitioners responsible for diversion work.
As regular readers will know, the Centre for Justice Innovation champions practice innovation and evidence-led policy reform in the UK’s justice systems and focuses on seven key areas where it looks to pilot new approaches, one of which is diversion. The briefing highlights six key steps forward for diversion which are summarised briefly below.
1: A new, common definition of diversion work
CJI draws attention to the fact that the Youth Justice Board has recently added an easy-to-access definition of diversion to its resources, making it easier to promoter a common approach and help avoid confusion, particularly around similar yet distinct approaches such as diversion and prevention.
2: A new ‘how to guide’ for producing youth justice plans
Earlier this year, the Youth Justice Board published new guidance for youth justice services on how to complete their annual youth justice plans. CJI think this is an invaluable tool for practitioners, that will encourage reflection on important areas of their work, such as incorporating the voice of the child, tackling racial disproportionality and implementing a child first approach. The guidance includes specific advice on how to effectively cover diversion in a youth justice plan, for example including information on the plan about how children are identified for diversion, how the service is delivered, how success is evaluated and what scrutiny is in place.
3: Putting the spotlight on the Youth Gravity Matrix
The Youth Gravity Matrix is a decision-making tool used by the police to determine the seriousness of an offence, and was first published in 2013. In Autumn 2021, the YJB and the National Police Chief’s Council launched a consultation into how the matrix is used, as well as how it can be improved. The review is important because the matrix score determines if each child is eligible for an out of court disposal, and therefore plays a crucial role as a gateway to diversion. CJI highlights criticisms of the matrix around racial disproportionality and expresses hopes that the review will address this issue.
4: The child first approach goes mainstream
The CJI highlights the recent efforts by the YJB to root its vision for the youth justice system in a child first approach, which they define as treating children as children, and minimising contact with the youth justice system where possible.
The child first approach, and its implications for championing diversion, have great potential for minimising the labelling of children as an ‘offender’, and the long-term harm associated with interacting with the justice system as a child.
5: Reasons to be pleased from the inspection of youth offending services
The latest annual inspection report of youth offending services (which rated two thirds of YOS as “good” or “exceptional”) draws out some good practice principles from areas that performed well in delivering out of court disposals. Completing a thorough assessment of the child, involving them and their family or carers, and considering the perspective and needs of the victim, were identified as contributing factors to high-quality decision-making at the multi-agency panels, and delivering appropriate interventions.
The inspectors concluded that out of court disposal case management has improved since the previous year, with the assessment, implementation and delivery undertaken well.
6: Building a picture of youth diversion in England and Wales
The YJB have updated their data recording requirements for YOTs to include diversionary outcomes when they submit data to the Youth Justice Board. The guidance lists which outcomes are mandatory to record and which are voluntary, intended to build a more complete picture of YOT caseloads and diversionary work.