Reintegration and transitions for young offenders: guidance

Best practice information for local authorities, community planning partnership and service providers.

9. Equality Issues

Reintegration must respond to the diverse needs of young people, whilst in secure care and custody and upon release, ensuring that requirements of specific groups are properly addressed. This is particularly the case for girls and young people from minority ethnic groups.

Care should be taken in drawing up reintegration and transition protocols or programmes to ensure that they do not unintentionally discriminate, for example, prioritising the needs of one group over another. It will be important to ensure that there are services in place to meet the differing needs that can be presented by 16 and 17 year olds. Young people should be considered for, and have access to, services to support community reintegration and transitions regardless of their gender, race, faith and belief, sexual orientation or disability.

Research shows that amongst individuals who offend the prevalence of learning difficulties is generally higher than that for the general population 104 . Major reviews of both UK and international research literature estimates that between 20 to 30% of all individuals involved in offending have some form of learning difficulty which will 'impact on their ability to cope with the criminal justice system and everyday life' 105 . Exact prevalence rates however are unknown as the figures are largely estimated on adult offenders undergoing assessment whilst detained in custody.

Several sources suggest that a significant number of young people involved in offending have limitations in their speech, language and communication abilities. A major survey conducted on behalf of the Youth Justice Board found that 23% of young people who offend within secure and community settings throughout the UK have low IQ's, indicating some form of learning difficulty 106 . An annual review of speech and language therapy provision at HMYOI Polmont (2006) also revealed that at least 18% of young people in prison experience significant communication difficulties. This is comparable to around 8% of young people likely to be identified with communication difficulties in the general population. 107

The key findings of a recent literature review by Glasgow's Youth Justice Research and Development Team includes: 108

  • the prevalence of learning difficulties is found to be generally higher for offenders than that for the general population although exact prevalence rates are unknown;
  • research highlights the link between social deprivation and dysfunctional family backgrounds in the early years of childhood, and delayed language, emotional and communication difficulties in later life;
  • young people experiencing learning difficulties are more likely to display behavioural problems in school, leading to truancy and exclusions;
  • having a learning difficulty does not cause offending behaviour, but the factors associated with having a learning difficulty such as lack of success in education and employment and feelings of social isolation, predispose the individual to the likelihood of becoming involved in anti-social behaviours and criminal careers;
  • learning difficulties can often go undiagnosed due to the propensity to focus on the young person's challenging behaviours and a general lack of systematic assessment protocols to screen service users for learning difficulties;
  • young people with learning difficulties are more vulnerable within the criminal justice system and are less likely to benefit from interventions designed to address their offending as they lack the underlying language and literacy competencies required to participate effectively;
  • undiagnosed learning difficulties can lead to mental health problems for young people in later life and perpetuates the cycle of disadvantage;
  • evidence suggests that improving literacy and social skills reduces re-offending; and
  • good practice for meeting the needs of young people with learning difficulties advocates 'inclusion' - making services more accessible to meet differing learning styles rather than 'exclusion' through developing specialist interventions.
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