Reintegration and transitions for young offenders: guidance

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

1. Introduction

This guidance is intended to provide an overview of 'good practice' principles for local authorities, community planning partners, the Scottish Prison Service ( SPS) and the secure estate in relation to reintegration and transitions for young people under 18 years of age.

Scotland is internationally renowned for its welfare based response to children and young people who offend, but stands alone as the only western European country to routinely deal with 16 and 17 year olds in the criminal justice system and imprisons this age group at a higher rate than elsewhere in Europe, contrary to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. 1 The Council of Europe have ratified recommendations on the European Rules for Juvenile Offenders subject to Community Sanctions or Measures (June 2008) and the Child-Friendly Justice guidelines (November 2010) 2 . The recommendations further reinforce the UN Convention but currently do not bind the courts in Scotland.

The Scottish Government is committed to giving children the best start in life and to improving the life chances of children, young people and families at risk. Tackling the causes and effects of offending by young people is key to building safe and strong communities, within which Scotland's future generation can fulfil its enormous potential.

The Reducing Reoffending Programme was established following the publication of Protecting Scotland's Communities: Fair, Fast and Flexible Justice in December 2008. The programme aims to reduce offending and reoffending and enhance public safety as well as reducing Scotland's prison population.

Each year approximately 10,000 16 and 17 year olds end up in the criminal justice system and courts with limited consideration given to either the positive benefits of diversionary opportunities suited to their age and stage of development, or the judicial procedure and whether young people can fully engage in the process 3 . A total of 116 16 and 17 year olds were in custody in February 2011 4 . Of these, 6 were female. 87% of the population of Polmont Young Offenders Institute ( YOI) have been there before their present sentence. 5

Supporting reintegration from secure care and custody will be significantly more cost effective for local authorities in the longer term than no support being offered. If young people do not successfully reintegrate within society and continue to offend their chance of returning to secure care or custody will be high, resulting in higher costs. Over a one year period, it can cost local authorities approximately £260,000 for one young person to be placed in secure care, and £31,703 for one year in custody. 6 With re-offending rates so high amongst this group of young people, the cost can be considerably more with frequent custodial sentences.

Young people within justice systems suffer multiple disadvantages that need to be addressed to ensure that they can become part of society and lead law abiding lives. Many of these problems can be intensified by them being in secure care or custody. Research shows that dislocating children and young people from their families, communities and from mainstream children's services by placing them in custody, can contribute to their vulnerability. 7 To prevent this, services need to work in partnership to meet the needs and address the risks of these young people as identified within their getting it right for every child ( GIRFEC) single plan.

The challenges associated with improving reintegration from secure care and custody and other transitions are great, but are an important aspect of reducing the number of young people returning to such establishments and continuing a pattern of offending behaviour. The principles for good practice are highlighted in appendix 3.

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