Reintegration and transitions for young offenders: guidance

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

8. Transitions

8.1 Childhood to adulthood

The transition from childhood to adulthood is a challenging time; for the most vulnerable young people it can be problematic. Young people who offend do not acquire instant maturity as they move into adulthood. Transitions for young people is not just about the physical act of moving on. The internal change and development which takes place within the young person also needs to be considered. Most young people still have vulnerabilities and an immediate removal of support as soon as they start to move into adulthood and change their behaviours may invariably lead to relapse and crisis.

Continued support during the transitions to adulthood enables young people to better cope with crisis when they arise, maintain healthy social support relationships and access and maintain involvement with specialist, mainstream and voluntary support agencies. To ensure that the experience of secure care and custody does not just have a brief impact on the young person's behaviour and life choices, it is crucial that support is available to ensure that the experience and change internalised in these settings is promoted into adulthood. 86

The single plan should set defined goals for when the young person returns to the community which will encourage their participation and inclusion in society. Emphasis should be placed on their family and relationship networks and their introduction to formal services, in particular accommodation and education, employment or training agencies.

Legislation for education 87 states that to support all young people, education authorities and schools should be able to support those with additional support needs. Preparation for adulthood should involve explicit recognition of the strengths, abilities, wishes and needs of young people as well as identification of relevant support strategies which may be required. Whatever young people need to learn in order to make their transitions successful should be planned for carefully. This is in line with the developments in the Curriculum for Excellence.

8.2 Child care to adult services

The Children (Scotland) Act 1995 regulations and guidance, identifies good practice that is still applicable, when dealing with young people who are being managed within the Children's Hearing system and also in the adult courts. It identifies that where necessary children's and criminal justice services should be co-ordinated and agreements reached about who is the best person to complete court reports and supervise any orders made. It may be that practitioners across child and adult services work together with the young person to allow a continuity of support and resources. This will also ensure that critical information, assessments and the single plan is shared between workers providing a greater understanding of the complexities of both systems and a smoother transition between services. Joint arrangements, where necessary, can continue until a young person reaches 18 years of age.

Supervision requirements should not be terminated simply because a young person is being dealt with in the criminal justice system. Maintaining supervision of a young person within the Children's Hearings system in these circumstances will ensure that needs and risks continue to be identified and met by children's services until appropriate planning has taken place and a suitable lead professional or case manager has been identified within adult services.

Children and young people involved in the adult criminal justice system are subject to services governed by National Outcomes and Standards irrespective of whether or not they are also involved in the Children's Hearing system. Subject to the nature and seriousness of the offence, other frameworks may also apply to young people in the adult system, including MAPPA 88 , developed under the Management of Offenders (Scotland) Act 2005, which protects the public and manages the highest risk sex offenders in the community and also adult protection procedures for young people involved with community care.

All young people under the age of 18 (whether subject to supervision requirement or not) who are not accompanied by a social worker should wherever possible be seen as a matter of priority by the court based social worker. 89 Young people, and their families where appropriate need to understand what is happening to them. Court based social workers should be responsible for ensuring local authorities receive relevant details of ALL 16 and 17 year olds who are sentenced to custody, 90 and work closely with the named person/lead professional.

Some young people making the transitions from child to adult services may also involve mental health or learning disability services. It is important that these services support the fluidity of such transitions which are know not to be easy.

8.3 Community to secure and reintegration

Removing young people from the community and placing them in locked facilities serves to 'reassure' the public but does not appear to be more effective than community-based interventions 91 . A weight of evidence indicates that a young person's difficulties are often only compounded when they return to their local communities. This is particularly crucial if no intensive intervention has been undertaken with their family or work with the community to support their reintegration.

Young people in secure accommodation need to be allowed the opportunity to build their personal resources during their stay that helps them to develop their skills to safeguard their return to the community. Family involvement, where appropriate, is likely to be critical to sustaining the young person's return to the community and to building on any gains made while in secure care.

According to the Social Work Inspectorate for Scotland (1996) 92 , in most cases young people who are accommodated in secure care have a long history of problems, disturbed behaviour and criminal offences. In the majority of cases it will have been known by social workers for weeks or months that a young person may require secure care. In these cases, intensive support should be provided to support the young person and reduce this risk. Where there is no alternative, some element of planning should go into finding the most appropriate placement to meet the needs of the young person. Anticipating a placement would enable initial discussion and advice to be sought by the social worker from the secure providers. However, by the very nature of secure care there are few 'planned' admissions to and young people are more likely to be placed on an emergency basis.

Good practice includes:

  • prior to admission secure units should expect referrer to supply background information in advance, or at the very least with the young person on admission. This should include a care plan and a chronology of events, particularly in relation to events preceding admissions, social background reports or court reports, educational reports, psychological assessments, and health information ( i.e. allergy and immunisation advice); and
  • introductory work with the young person and their family.

The possibility of a successful transition back into the community is a process that should start from the point of sentence or remand and not just at the moment of their departure. Young people leaving secure care are likely to have faced more moves and instability in a relatively short time as compared to many other young people in care. Therefore forward planning is vital to support successful transitions from secure care, and an effective service provision based on a thorough assessment of need and risk, in order to reintegrate them into the community. The young person's single plan should therefore highlight areas to be addressed and worked on whilst in secure care and the plan up-date for further support or issues to be addressed upon their return to the community.

Transitions are a time of insecurity and stress and the resilience of young people may not always be strong enough to cope in a way that allows them to apply what they have learned whilst in secure care. Research indicates that a degree of certainty about what will happen upon departure, a safe and comfortable place to live, continuity in care, support and a day programme are fundamental components for a successful transition. 93

The 2005 research report 'Secure accommodation in Scotland: Its role and relationship with 'alternative' services' 94 further identified that benefits from being in secure accommodation were more likely to be sustained if the young person was able to move on to a care and education/work placement which corresponded with his or her identified needs.

Good practice for reintegration includes:

  • careful planning for mobility programmes 95 which have a sequential build up leading to the fulfilment of the programme aims. Good practice examples have involved young people initially escorted by staff in and around the locality of the secure unit and then young people having worked towards being out in the community undertaking qualifications such as pool lifeguard;
  • developing external links with agencies and the community which help aid transitions. Good practice examples have included units having information leaflets and resources about training, leisure and career opportunities;
  • timescales and goals which are set with the young person, key professionals and the family at the beginning of a placement and then reviewed on a regular basis. This must include addressing plans for the transition from secure care;
  • lead professional to ensure that long term community supports are in place.

Within secure care, mobility programmes can help to reintegrate young people into society, ensuring that they are supported within the community as well as the secure environment. Mobility programmes should be included within a young person's single plan and decisions about mobility should include all relevant authorities. Mobility is essential in maintaining links to family, community and access to leisure and recreational pursuits.

Intensive Support and Monitoring Service ( ISMS), where appropriate, should take a role in assisting young people with the transition from secure care back into the community. It may be that in certain circumstances, this can mean a reduction in the period of time the young person spends in secure care. ISMS provide a high level of intensive contact (up to 50 hours) with a focus on assessed areas of risk, for example addiction support, education or training, social support or programme work around offending.

In respect of young people in secure care, the Youth Justice National Standards for aftercare require every young person to have an aftercare plan covering a period of at least 3 months following the day of departure from secure accommodation. The aftercare plan should be included within the young person's single plan and reviewed after 3 months and regularly after that whilst the young person is subject to a supervision requirement.

Recent research has found that the main sources of community support for young people leaving secure accommodation were workers from the throughcare teams and projects offering intensive support, but that availability was inconsistent across Scotland. 96 This study also found that continuity of workers with a step-down approach was the most effective way of assisting young people to cope independently. It recommended that support be provided over a longer time frame so as to fully realise and sustain the benefits of intervention.

8.4 Community to prison and reintegration

Many 16 and 17 year olds moving into custody are likely to be particularly troubled, disadvantaged and vulnerable. Failing to meet their needs as they move from the community to custody can lead to a lifetime of offending behaviour. Treating them as older prisoners might also be harmful. A high percentage of 16 and 17 year olds sentenced to a Young Offenders Institution ( YOI) are reconvicted within two years of release. 97 In 2008, The Scottish Prisons Commission 98 recommended that the Scottish Government explore options for detaining 16 and 17 year olds in secure youth facilities, separate from older prisoners and those under the age of 16. However, 16 and 17 year olds who are unable to remain in their communities as a consequence of their offending behaviour are likely to be remanded or sentenced to custody. It is those young people involved in the adult criminal justice system who should be prioritised to receive timely support to address the complex problems they face.

Community based services should ensure that the GIRFEC approach is applied when working with young people as they move from youth to the criminal justice system and from the community to a YOI. The designated lead professional should co-ordinate support for this transition. The lead professional should also take responsibility for ensuring that the single plan moves with the young person into custody and for making sure that any reports 99 and assessments requested by the court accompanies the plan.

The designated lead professional in the community should make contact with the named person in the YOI and arrangements should be made for a multi-agency sentence planning meeting to take place. Where this is part of criminal justice through care, practice guidance should be followed. 100 These meetings should remain in place throughout the young person's sentence and a case pre-release case conference prioritised to share information and allocate tasks to ensure that work is coordinated and transition needs are accommodated in a seamless fashion.

As stated, all young people, regardless of status, should have a single plan. All local authorities are responsible for ensuring that all young people in custody have a named lead professional/person to liaise with the prison, to share information, and to be involved in planning for the young person to return to the community. This plan should detail all community supports involved in supporting the young person to ensure appropriate links are made. If a young person is on remand, this should include providing the court with a robust community based package as an alternative to custody, where appropriate.

The lead professional is responsible for:

  • young people under 18 in custody;
  • meeting with young people during their period of remand or sentence;
  • helping in the process of sentence-planning;
  • encouraging under 18s not subject to statutory supervision to seek voluntary assistance prior to and on release;
  • keeping contact with the people in the community with whom the young person hopes to live upon release; and
  • working with personal officers in the YOI to ensure the young person's needs are fully met.

At present, research indicates that many young people are not being supported by their local authority when given a custodial sentence 101 . Supervision requirements from the Children's Hearing system are terminated either prior to sentence or very quickly after the fact and in many cases, no one takes any responsibility from the community for the young person while in custody, or on release. The SPS and their third sector partners are attempting to address this by offering young people some support upon release. Local authorities need to take ownership of these young people by being involved in their transition to custody and to support their reintegration to the community upon their release.

Moving into custody should be considered a key transition for young people regardless of whether it is their first time in a YOI or not. Appendix 4 highlights some of the support that is offered by SPS. For all 16 and 17 year olds making the transition to custody, information needs to be passed to the relevant key worker in the YOI. 102 Information needs to be accurate, useful and should arrive at the establishment within 72 hours of sentencing.

During their time in custody, work should be undertaken with young people to meet their needs, as identified by their single plan. Work should also be undertaken to address their offending behaviour and any criminogenic needs, as highlighted by the risk assessment. This work should continue when a young person is returned to the community or if they move within the prison estate.

Other areas of a young person's single plan, including learning and skills; interventions, offending behaviour programmes and health treatment should also continue as the young person moves; and support should be offered by the professionals involved to ensure a smooth transition, regardless of where the young person is moving too. Within Scotland, SPS, Prison Based Social Work, SDS, SPS Youth Workers, third sector partners and local authorities should be able to provide these links and connect pre-release supports with community provision for young people.

As part of their single plan, all young people should agree a Community Integration Plan ( CIP) prior to their release, which will form part of their single plan. This will include either agreed priorities and identified contacts for community transition upon release; or an agreed plan of further learning or activities within prison, for those making the transition from YOI to an adult establishment. The lead professional from the community should be involved in this planning and receive the plan when the young person is released.

The challenges for young people who are returning to their communities are reflected in the high levels of re-offending. 87% of the population of Polmont YOI have been there before their present sentence. 103 There are key factors that make it very difficult for many young people to make a successful transition. These include; relationships, housing, child care, mental health and well-being, drug and alcohol use. These factors can result in increased vulnerability and risk and in many cases a return to custody. A consistent approach that links services available in prison with a return to the community can counter against this.

The need for support is also essential when a young person is released as part of a Home Detention Curfew scheme. Further stress can be placed on relationships by the young person's inability to leave their accommodation. These issues and constraints result in a high number of young people breaching their curfew and returning to prison.

8.5 Secure to prison

Staff should expect some young people moving from secure to custody to take time to adjust to the change in culture and environment. The amount of attention and one-to-one time is much reduced in custody and the transition can be unsettling for some young people. It is important that the young person understands where they are going and what will happen to them once they move. The secure estate should liaise with the prison in relation to their sentenced young people to agree the most appropriate time to start planning this move. As SPS as a dedicated hall for under 18s, it may be appropriate in some cases for young people to move from the secure state when they are 17 to support this transition.

Key workers from the secure unit and personal officers from the YOI should meet with the young person prior to the transition and if possible a visit to the YOI should be arranged in advance of the young person's move. Where appropriate, this visit should involve the young person's family or network of support. Young people need to be prepared for the reality that they will receive less attention in Blair House and Cornton Vale and that differences persist between Blair House and the rest of the YOI.

Secure units have their own procedures and paperwork for sentence planning and case management. The secure unit should pass documentation such as education, health, psychology and risk reports to SPS when a young person transfers. When a young person has previously been in secure care but entered the SPS from the community, SPS should contact the secure unit for previous information and reports to help form their assessment and plan.

8.6 Young Offenders Institute to adult establishment

Planning for a young person's transition to the young adult estate should start as early as possible for 16 and 17 year olds entering custody. Meetings between the young person, their family, personal officer and community based professionals plus their future personal officer should be arranged to help facilitate a smooth transition and to ensure that the young person knows what to expect well in advance of being moved.

Post transition meetings should be arranged so that the young person continues to feel supported by the people who have got to know him or her best during their stay in YOI. Meetings must be organised prior to the young person's move and should take place within the first month of transfer. Staff will withdraw when necessary and in agreement with the young person.

The young person's plan should be passed to their new personal officer and every effort made to ensure that they can continue in training, qualifications and employment that they have started in order to meet the actions within their plan.

Where the young person's release date is shortly after their 18th birthday then there may be a case for them to remain in an under 18 hall.

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