Reintegration and transitions for young offenders: guidance

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

4. Research

Throughcare, sometimes called 'transitional care', refers to a range of social work and other support services to prisoners from the point of sentence or remand, during their period of imprisonment and subsequent release into the community. It consists of two elements: work with individuals in prison to help them address and change their criminal behaviour, and work in the community designed to re-integrate them back into mainstream society. 21

Two consistent findings from the research literature on throughcare highlight:

  • that the chance of treatment in prison being successful is improved by the nature, quality and length of support after release; and
  • that it is essential to have co-ordination and integration between whatever programmes and services are offered in prison and those offered by criminal justice social work services and other agencies in the community under post-release supervision. 22

Good practice in transitions is crucial in achieving positive outcomes for young people. The Scottish Institute for Residential Child Care manifesto, No Time to Lose (2006) highlighted that 'secure care will only be effective if it is mirrored by robust, good quality open residential provision and the availability of services to support young people' 23 . Transitions for young people in the care system are a time of insecurity and stress. Preparing young people to move on is not merely a practical task; amidst the emotional turmoil of transition young people need to feel safe. Research by Dixon and Stein (2002) 24 indicated that a degree of certainty about what will happen is fundamental to a successful transition.

The international research literature shows that the throughcare strategies with the most favourable results are 'holistic'; that is, focused on the whole range of an individuals' needs and integrated with support in the prison and in the community. This support is necessary not only in the early weeks of readjustment on release but also in the long term. 25 Indispensable processes for successful 'habilitation' or 'integration' include teaching basic skills, helping young people to develop the capacity to cope with their 'survival' needs in the outside world, establishing meaningful links whilst in prison with a range of community services that can offer continuing support and supporting psychological wellbeing. 26

This evidence is particularly important for young people, due to their levels of maturity, and the need for a comprehensive plan. GIRFEC's 'single plan', should be individualised by highlighting the risk and needs of each young person and should clearly state how these will be met, by whom and in what time-scales. To address offending and criminogenic needs - taking into account ability, gender and religious/ethical needs of the young person - it is essential to have detailed plans, that build on existing plans to enable better informed assessment.

Evidence suggests that young people who leave custody with a lack of resources, support and coordination between agencies have a higher risk of returning to custody. 27 Local authorities and community planning partners have a responsibility to ensure such services are available and target those who need it most.

According to Hagell (2004) 28 , successful reintegration for young people includes:

  • ceasing offending, or at least reducing offending to lower level offences committed less frequently and with less risk to others;
  • engagement in employment, education or training activities, in a way that will lead to a new life away from offending;
  • full realisation of any benefit entitlement and general support with financial planning;
  • inclusion back into health and dental services, including engagement in substance misuse programmes if necessary;
  • settlement into stable accommodation;
  • support in building new and better relationships; and
  • engagement in some way with people who can provide long-term mentoring or other kinds of support.


A 1995 study of young people's offending patterns commissioned by the Home Office 29 found that changes in lifestyle such as becoming a parent, leaving the parental home and gaining financial independence through employment and training were strong indicators of desistence from criminal behaviour for young people.

In their study to explore the routes into and out of offending for young people in Scotland, Jamieson et al (1999) 30 interviewed 75 young people (aged 14-25 years) categorised into desisters (those who had not offended with the last year), resisters (young people who had never offended) and persisters (young people who had recently offended and were going on to criminal careers). They concluded that whilst younger desisters (like resisters) are inclined to fear the consequences of crime and view offending as 'futile' and morally wrong, older desisters are more likely to associate their abstinence with becoming more mature and moving on with their lives such as pursuing training or education. Males were more likely to say that their abstinence was 'personal choice', whilst females were more inclined to explain their desistance in terms of 'relational aspects' such as having gained parental responsibilities, not wanting to let their families down or having become more aware of the consequences of crime on their victims. In contrast, young people who offend classed as persisters were found to be less committed to education and employment and were most likely to have family members or peers also involved in crime. Persistent offending was often linked to drug addiction (particularly the need to fund a drug addiction) and in the case of females, was usually linked to involvement in relationships with male partners also involved in crime. Female persisters however, were more likely than their male counterparts to say they were trying to desist from crime and were more likely than young men to have adopted avoidance techniques to facilitate desistance.

Such findings support widely acknowledged theories about reasons for desistance from crime, thus that 'the ending of active involvement in offending is fundamentally related to 'acquiring something' such as employment, a relationship or family 31 . Feminist approaches have suggested that female desistance from crime can be more usefully understood as 'a process of opportunity to claim a pro-social identity' and that girls have more inclination to reform from crime than boys because of societal pressure to fit the conventional model of good wife and mother. As Rumgay suggests 'It is not just the events and changes that matter; it is what these events and changes mean to the people involved' 32 .


Research evidence points to differences in moral reasoning between the genders to explain why females have a stronger inclination than boys to desist from offending. Underpinning female moral-reasoning is a general ethic of care and responsibility to others. In their 1999 study exploring young people's pathways into and out of crime, Jamieson et al 33 found that boys were much more likely than girls to have been the victims of physical assaults outside their own homes and as a result of their own experiences were more likely to adopt an individualistic approach to moral reasoning with a specific tendency towards 'victim blame'. Girls on the other hand were found to have a more 'relational' approach to moral reasoning, their accounts of offending where much more likely to "take account of the effects of actions on others". Thus an influential Study by Gilligan in 1982 34 explored attitudes of 29 men and women, (aged 15-33) attending abortion and pregnancy counselling services, and concluded that when faced with a problem situation or ethical dilemma, females are much more likely to make rational, context-dependent judgements which are more concerned about the impact of behaviour on people's actual feelings whilst males are more likely to assess the situation at an abstract level that does not consider the impact on others. 35

Studies have also suggested that in contrast to females, male offending is largely linked to cognitive deficits 36 . According to Moffitt (1993) 37 , 'where offending in adolescence is normal, anti-social behaviour that continues throughout the life course is pathological'. Moffitt argues that offending in adulthood is linked to 'neuropsychological deficits within the brain's executive functions, affecting the ability to organise and plan ahead'. This, she argues is a trait found to be more attributable to boys.

The literature suggests that girls mature (physically and emotionally) at an earlier age than boys and therefore will 'reach and pass through the turbulent period associated with offending at a younger age' 38 . Research around desistance from offending illustrates that for many young people abstinence from crime is linked to 'conscious lifestyle changes related to the coming of age'. 39

For youth offending there are similar criminogenic risk factors which apply to both boys and girls including anti-social attitudes, pro-criminal associates and peers, lack of parental supervision and unstructured leisure time. However, girls are less likely to be referred to a Children's Hearing on offence grounds. In 2008, 75% of offence referrals were in respect of offences committed by boys compared to 25% by girls 40 . In direct contrast to this, over the same period, the number of secure authorisations made by Children's Hearings in respect of boys was 57% compared to 43% for girls. There were clear gender differences in why Hearings decided to make secure authorisations:

  • girls tended to present a high risk to themselves, particularly due to sexually risky behaviour; whilst
  • boys presented risks to themselves and others, particularly due to violence, offending and road traffic offences

Girls are often assessed as high risk as a result of high levels of need evidenced in structured risk assessments and are considered to be in greater need of protection than boys. As a consequence of this, girls and young women are often pushed higher up the sentencing tariff and are five times more likely than boys and young men to receive a custodial sentence as opposed to a community disposal 41 .

Certain factors in offending and risk taking behaviours by girls have stronger correlations than for boys and include victimisation (including physical, emotional and sexual abuse), weak support networks (including school and low parental supervision), peer influence of boys and male associates involved in offending behaviour, unsupervised and unstructured leisure time, low self-esteem, domestic abuse, exploitation and material deprivation. However, girls' problematic behaviours are less likely to be recognised due to the more covert nature of their behaviour and lack of gender specific assessment processes.

Girls are also less likely to be referred for services as the numbers involved in offending, as opposed to risk taking behaviour, are smaller in proportion to boys and there is a lack of gender appropriate services designed to address high levels of vulnerability. Girls are less likely to engage in existing interventions and more likely to disengage prematurely due to services not addressing their needs. Most services which currently address offending behaviour are designed around boys' needs and learning style.

In relation to mental health, girls display higher rates of problems with a prevalence of post traumatic stress disorder, depression and low self-esteem. Often, this is not recognised until they enter secure care or custody. Girls display different coping mechanisms by internalising problems through negative emotional behaviours such as self blame, self harm and risky sexual behaviour.

Girls require a more individualised service design as risk factors related to recidivism are different with poor parenting, dysfunctional family environment and absconding being greater influences. Offending and risk taking behaviour is frequently a result of family breakdown where girls without suitable accommodation have been thrown out of or have left the family home. Poor relationships within the home can also lead to assaults on family members/domestic violence or criminal damage to the family home.

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