Please note not all views expressed in the film and on the blog necessarily reflect the views of coalition members.
The self-fulfilling prophesy that's doubled our prison population,
demonised our young and costs us billions...
Welcome to the Fear Factory

Friday 26 February 2010

It’ll be alright on the night

The Fear Factory is an apt description because when I entered “Monster Mansion” (Wakefield Prison) in 1972 I was 21 years of age but mentally and physically more like a 14 year old. I hugged the wall like a shadow out of fear. A chicken waiting to be plucked by the vultures staring down from the landings above. I recall thinking it was a Vultures Paradise.

Whilst in prison I have studied. Links have been drawn between the factory and the prison. Just type prisons like factories into Google and see for yourselves.

When the prison authorities state that they feared me more as a law-abiding citizen applying the law in prison than they did when I was being violent, reminds me of the boy, youth, young man, and then adult as I stood in the dock facing a judge. I had invoked the judge looking over their shoulder, and they could not stand up to the legal scrutiny.

I became famous for my legal challenges, and made history with the Prisoners Votes Case, then authored a blog, which has a worldwide readership (save for China which blocks me with the Great Firewall of China). So, it is understandable to me that The Fear Factory production team got in touch with me to take part in their production. I was going down to London anyway, and popped into their studio/flat.

First impression, a flat it’s a Mickey Mouse production. This was quickly replaced when I met the team and admired their professionalism. The shoot was only meant to last a short while, but it appeared as though they had stumbled upon a gold mine and set to digging. This took time. A lot of time, in fact. It did mean that it impinged upon time I had mentally intended to donate to others. (They did get another visit to make up for my hastily changed plan).

They say that the proof is in the eating. The sampler is a tasty tease of better to come. I look forward to the screening on 1st of March. I intend to go down to London for it. I was unable to go to the premier of Underbelly, which I was a special adviser on and a character in it is loosely based upon me, therefore it’s a first for me if everything goes as planned.

John Hirst

Young People’s Participation in the Youth Justice System

Young offenders have the same right to have their views taken into account as other children and young people. However a new NCB report, Young People’s Participation in the Youth Justice System, has found that there are a number of barriers to participative approaches in youth justice services, despite evidence that young offenders who have a say in decisions that affect them are more likely to have better outcomes overall.

The report suggests that negative public perceptions of young offenders have resulted in political ambivalence as to whether young offenders ‘deserve’ a say, while staff culture and commitment and a lack of training on participative approaches can further hinder meaningful contributions by young people in their own assessments. Furthermore young offenders have low expectations about their ability to influence the plans that are made for them, despite welcoming the opportunity to have more say.

While some local services have developed their own initiatives to consult young offenders on issues that affect them, the report recommends that the Youth Justice Board lead the process by developing a participation strategy covering all aspects of the youth justice system. It is imperative that such a strategy establish mechanisms that will support the development of a culture of participation throughout youth justice services. In responding to the report, Frances Done, chair of the Board, has stated that the Board will consider its approach to participation and regard the development of a participation strategy as a high priority.

We know from evidence and experience that outcomes are more likely to be positive when young people have been active partners in shaping the services they receive. The approach to involving young people within the youth justice system in their own assessment and case management should also be reviewed, in partnership with young people. Developing a comprehensive participation strategy covering both individual and more general aspects of youth justice services could greatly improve outcomes for young offenders and enhance the job satisfaction of staff working with them.

Diane Hart
Principle Officer
Youth Justice and Welfare
National Children's Bureau

Thursday 25 February 2010

Criminal Justice Alliance

It is not often than you see a good news story in the criminal justice arena, but against all expectations the tide does seem to be turning in youth justice. According to Government figures (, the number of first time entrants into the youth justice system has fallen substantially, with 74,033 young people aged 10-17 receiving their first reprimand, warning or conviction in England in 2008-09, a decrease of a startling 21.6% from 94,481 young people in 2007-08 and down from a peak of 104,361 in 2006-07. Meanwhile the number of young people in custody has also fallen (, with 2,203 under-18s in custody in December 2009, down by nearly 1,000 from a peak of 3,175 in October 2002.

Clearly, too many young people still come into contact with the youth justice system, and nobody should be satisfied with what is still a high level of youth custody. But progress is, at last, being made. So what is causing this? Nobody seems to know for sure. The abandonment of the notorious ‘Offences Brought to Justice’ target has probably played a part in the reduction in the number of first time entrants into the youth justice system. This target had a disproportionate impact on under-18s, who were more likely to be targeted unnecessarily in the drive to meet it. Scrapping the target should have made it easier for the police to deal with minor offences informally.

Alongside this, a shaky political consensus appears to be emerging that too many young people are being criminalised, and that better ways can be found to address troublesome behaviour by children and young people. This is exemplified by the Government’s public statements in support of the falling number of first time entrants into the youth justice system, the Conservatives’ attempts, however clumsy, to find ways of addressing youth offending outside the formal youth justice system, and the Liberal Democrats’ criticism of the Government for their previous ‘unprecedented criminalisation of our children’. It is far from perfect, of course, and there are still far too many occasions when politicians from all parties use crime by young people as a way of scoring political points. But the atmosphere does seem to be less febrile than it was, particularly with regards to low-level offending, although whether this will survive a hotly-contested election campaign remains to be seen.

The falling number of first time entrants into the youth justice system will, in turn, have had a significant effect on the number of young people who, once caught up in the youth justice system, end up in custody. It is likely that other factors will also have had an impact. The use of custody may, for example, have been affected by the work of the Youth Justice Board to persuade courts and youth offending teams to have confidence in alternative options. However, why that would have been successful now, but not previously, is not clear. There is also a vibrant campaigning environment around the issue of youth justice, including, for example, the Prison Reform Trust’s Out of Trouble campaign ( and the work of the Standing Committee for Youth Justice ( By and large, this work has the support of children’s charities such as the Children’s Society and the NSPCC, which arguably command more public support than traditional penal reformers. This campaigning work may finally be having an impact.

Whatever the causes, the drop in the use of youth custody, in particular, is extremely welcome. Unfortunately, there has been no parallel reduction in the adult prison population, which continues to grow at an unsustainable rate. So alongside a clearer understanding of what caused the reduction in the use of custody for young people and how this can be sustained, what we also need to examine is how similar gains can be made in reducing the adult prison population and reversing the escalation in the use, and the reach, of the adult criminal justice system.

Jon Collins,
Campaign Director,
Criminal Justice Alliance (

Wednesday 24 February 2010

Help is needed to deal with the challenges of life ‘on the outside’

It is worth remembering that nearly every person we lock up (as I write this post the current UK prison population stands at 83,655 – an increase of nearly 1,500 on this time last year) will be released back into the community one day.

Many of our clients tell us that the crucial few days after release is when the real battle starts. Most prisoners come out determined to go straight with no intention of ever seeing the inside of a cell again. Prison is a harsh, lonely, degrading experience with overcrowding compounding this (imagine having to share an in-cell, unconcealed toilet with a complete stranger – this is the reality of an adult prison rather than the image of three star luxury presented by some tabloids). The loss of liberty is the punishment element of prison but a side effect of this is that prisoners are often ill-equipped for life ‘on the outside’. Too many are released without stable accommodation to go to, help getting their finances sorted and support into work or training. Others simply find the outside world too overwhelming and the smallest things become a huge challenge. One man talked of being in tears at the station on his way home from prison because he couldn’t handle the bustle of a small suburban rail station. Another confided that he used to run out of shops in a panic when shopping with his kids because he couldn’t deal with crowds.

Brash, hardy exteriors are adopted as a mode of survival on the prison wing but these defences can come crashing down when people are released back into the community. St Giles Trust aims to help ease this transition by offering practical and emotional support to people leaving prison and handholding them through the following few weeks when the risk of re-offending is very high if the right support is not in place.

Our caseworkers are right by their side from the minute they are released if they need it and stay with them until they are settled. We will not abandon anyone by leaving them homeless and stranded – if necessary we will pay for emergency housing out of our own resources if family, local councils and housing associations cannot provide a roof.

The impact of this work is huge. For 16 months, St Giles Trust were funded by The London Probation service to provide post-release support to prison leavers returning to London. During this time over 1,500 prison leavers were referred to the service and we successfully housed over 1,000 of them who would have had nowhere to go otherwise. Only a handful were recalled to prison during this time.

Unfortunately, funding for this service came to an end. We are still providing an ad hoc version through various other smaller projects we have been able to get up and running to pick up the huge levels of unmet need. However, these are operating under considerable pressure and are no replacement for a dedicated service which provides a single point of contact for anyone leaving prison requiring support.

That is why we are calling for everyone who needs help on release from prison to be provided with the opportunity to be met and supported by someone who can help them get established outside and negotiate the rocky road to resettlement. Someone who has had a spell in prison will face huge barriers– many are homeless, connections with friends and family have often broken down and they may face discrimination when looking for employment or training.

Someone who commits a crime deserves to be punished – that is without question. But for too long now we have set ex-prisoners up to fail once they are released back into the community. Continuing to judge and discriminate against ex-offenders after they have finished their sentence serves no-one and ensures a one-way ticket back to prison, with all the associated costs and misery this brings. Surely everyone deserves a second chance?

Rob Owen,
Chief Executive, St Giles Trust

Monday 22 February 2010

Why did The Nationwide Foundation fund the production of the film?

Our interest in and commitment to supporting the rehabilitation of young offenders began in 2005. The Nationwide Foundation is grant-making charity, which provides funding to other charities and at that time we approved six grants to charities working to reduce reoffending and provide transition and resettlement support for young people leaving custody.Three of these charities were: Addaction, Construction Youth Trust and Safer Wales.

Initially the charities worked on their own projects, but we quickly recognised that they shared many goals and were each tackling the same obstacles in trying to provide an accurate portrayal of young offenders.

We decided to bring the charities together to foster a collaborative working relationship. We wanted the charities to share expertise and best-practice, and consider how they could collectively effect change.

By working together, the charities proposed that they challenge mainstream stereotypes about young offenders and influence change through the production of an informative, educational and emotive documentary.

Impressed with the project plan and keen to encourage meaningful partnership working in the charity sector, we provided the funding to create the film, which has become the Fear Factory.

The Nationwide Foundation has not influenced the charities or the film makers, Spirit Level Film on the content of the documentary, except to state from the outset that the aim was to educate and bring about positive change. This would reduce reoffending among young offenders and provide them with more opportunities to embrace a life free from crime, ultimately creating safer communities for us all to live in.

We eagerly look forward to seeing substantial, long-lasting benefits as a result of the project we have invested in. We want to see benefits both for the young people currently in and exiting the prison, as well as those who may benefit from alternative, non-custodial intervention.

Lisa Parker
Chief Executive
The Nationwide Foundation

To find out more about the work of the Nationwide Foundation, please visit:

Friday 19 February 2010

Association of Panel Members

From 1909 until 2001, the primary role for community participation in the youth justice system has been as volunteer magistrates delivering summary justice to young people, with the ultimate sanction of imprisonment to teach lessons which - somehow- prevent their future offending. Youth Offending Panels are now in their 10th year of operating through directly engaging community volunteers in the rehabilitation of young people pleading guilty to behaviour which cross the boundaries of criminality, through Referral Orders delivering restorative justice.

The revised system, designed to deliver support services at one-stop-shops provided by newly-configured Youth Offending Teams, was greeted with euphoria and led to description of Panels by the then Youth Justice Board Chair, Rod Morgan, as the jewel in the crown. Yet the criminal justice floodgate was opened to children aged from 11, with the decade depicted as a crime-wave committed by ‘feral’ teenagers, and Panels confined to the backwaters as a ‘soft’ or superfluous diversion from jails accommodating up to 3000 under-18’s, to receive their just desserts.

Whilst conventional wisdom attributes children’s crime to moral deficits, easily remedied by the short, sharp shock of being ‘sent-down’, Community Panel Members recognise that behind the court orders lie stories of disastrous role models, unfulfilled potential, and institutional failures - only to be compounded through incarceration. We seek to challenge these children’s behaviour by ensuring that victims become the jury and amends are made; by agreeing contracts to engage support services to ensure that contextual factors which led to the crime are addressed. Yet despite an alarming reoffending rate for custodial sentences (75%) the community justice epitomized in Panel Members faces a constant challenge to increase magistrates’ confidence in community sentences - perceived as only applicable to trivial crimes, despite the lowest reoffending rate of all community sentences (45%).

This topsy-turvy position has finally been highlighted in recent excellent work by penal reformers, with sentencers’ confidence in custody being questioned by policy makers at all levels. Not least all 4 Children’s Commissioners, responsible for upholding the Human Rights of children in the United Kingdom. The economics of incarcerating young people (£325m) when weighed against an average 75% risk of re-offending upon release, simply don’t make sense.

At the community level, the Association of Panel Members (AOPM) has become an apologist for Restorative Youth Justice. With few resources other than the goodwill of volunteers, we beat the drum in favour of victim participation in solutions to the harm caused by young people in our communities; in favour of interventions targeted towards the social, emotional and behavioural deficits which disproportionately affect these children. And we are very reluctant witnesses to the sheer numbers of young people left behind by the education system, only to resurface in the custody suite.

Panel Members understand the ability of young people to come good in time with patient, affirming (but not condoning) adult support, as opposed to condemnation. We want to celebrate the sheer guts and determination it takes for young people, who went off the rails, to get back on track working with YOTs in partnership with members of their community. As volunteers, Panel Members are disinterested, dispassionate and freethinking participants in the complex process of corporate parenting, who know that our role is challenging to entrenched traditions. We are therefore a wild card in the pack, which sometimes renders our partnerships unstable. By keeping sight of the goal, we help children to move away from the so-called revolving door, by delivering the urban equivalent of the African saying; ‘It takes a whole village to raise a child.’

Baroness Neuberger’s 2009 review of volunteering in the criminal justice system provides the last word:
"A lack of investment in volunteer management inevitably results in volunteers having a bad experience. During the course of my research I have come across many cases of volunteers who have had a negative experience, as a direct result of poor investment in their management. This is more common where a statutory volunteer role is new, for instance in the case of panel members on Youth Offending Teams. The agency is still adapting to these changes and a supportive culture is still being developed. The Youth Justice Board has worked on a number of initiatives to support best practice in managing volunteers. Nevertheless, Government should be taking this very seriously if they wish Panel Members to stay and play a key role."

Sandra Beeton
Association of Panel Members (AOPM)

Wednesday 17 February 2010

What about girls?

One aspect of youth justice which is often sidelined in debate about reform is the situation of girls. Increasing numbers of young women are becoming caught up in a system which has been designed with the needs and offending patterns of boys in mind. There has been an overall failure to develop a gender-sensitive youth justice system, and there is a pressing need for this to change.

Though there does not appear to be a rise in their offending rates, girls are finding themselves drawn in the criminal justice system more frequently and are being convicted at a younger age. Responses to their offending tend to be more interventionist than for boys, resulting in larger numbers appearing in court. It is suggested that young women are being prosecuted for activities that, previously, they would not have, and the use of custody for girls has risen sharply.

These rising numbers, and the picture painted in the media of girls and young women as anti-social binge-drinkers, have created the popular misconception that girls’ offending and anti-social behaviour are becoming more prolific, more violent and generally spiralling out of control. The Government’s punitive approach to youth offending had obscured the particular vulnerabilities of these girls and young women.

While girls and young women caught up in the criminal justice system share many similar social problems to boys, there are also distinct differences which pose different challenges and which require different treatment and expertise. The experience of custody also affects boys and girls differently and inevitably their response to youth offender management. Girls who offend have often suffered from a history of physical and sexual abuse, as well as disruptive or troubled family backgrounds. Whilst there is no one route in to the criminal justice system, girls tend to have followed a general path from achieving little at school as a result of early disadvantage and social exclusion, leading to their subsequent disengagement, resulting in a lack of basic skills or qualifications, and a lack of hope for the future.

Young women offenders, as well as those at risk of offending, experience greater levels of emotional problems than boys, and many suffer from cripplingly low levels of self esteem. They experience extremely high rates of self harm, with levels almost twice that of the adult female population. Many have been in care, or have substance misuse problems, and they display higher than average mental health needs than the general population. Many who are taken into custody also suffer from the additional trauma of being separated, not only from their support networks, but from their own children.

By the time a girl or young woman comes into contact with the criminal justice system she is likely to have already experienced multiple problems in her life, and to have come from a deprived and socio-economically marginalised community. Taking them into custody clearly is not working to reduce offending. Instead it invariably exacerbates the problems they may be experiencing. These young women are vulnerable and victimised themselves, and in desperate need of care and support. With the right, targeted and personalised help they can be empowered to find another path and build a better future.

The average time between a girl’s first caution and being taken in to custody is half that of boys. This is part of the reason that early positive intervention is particularly critical for girls. There is a short space of time in which a girl can be diverted away from involvement in offending before she becomes formally involved in the youth justice system. The younger a girl is when this happens, the more damaging the effects on her.

Whilst much needed research has been done into the needs and experiences of adult women caught up in the criminal justice system, girls tend to have been subsumed under the category of ‘youth’ offending and not enough is known about them and what really does work. What we do know suggests that the more successful approaches include those that are specifically designed around the needs of the individual, are holistic in approach, involve the voices of young women and work positively with female peer groups.

As a society we are failing so many disadvantaged young women by not enabling them to achieve their full potential. We need to find new approaches to girls’ offending, as well as recognising the value of existing alternatives. If we are to move forward with a criminal justice strategy based on sound evidence, there is a real need to take in to account the voices and experiences of girls in order to create a system that is sensitive to gender and responsive to need.

About YWCA England & Wales

YWCA’s vision is that all girls and women, in particular those living in the most disadvantaged and deprived areas across England and Wales, are able to overcome the prejudice and barriers they face so that they can fulfil their potential.

YWCA provides support, guidance and learning opportunities for marginalised girls and women which are designed with their specific needs in mind. We also campaign with them to combat the discrimination and disadvantage they face.

Our women’s centres have evolved in recognition of the importance that girls and women place on being able to focus on their issues in an environment that is women-only and safe, and respectful of their diverse needs.

Monday 15 February 2010

Gordon Brown set to end early jail release scheme

• PM bids to head off Tory crime attack
• Labour accused of 'cynical' poll ploy

Gordon Brown is set to announce the end of the controversial early release scheme for prisoners before the general election in an attempt to blunt an expected Tory assault on the government's law and order policies.

The Observer can reveal that urgent discussions are under way between No 10, the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office in preparation for an announcement within weeks.

Senior government sources say the prime minister may announce the end of the scheme in a major speech on law and order early next month, in which he is also expected to reveal new measures on neighbourhood policing.

Officials said the availability of prison places remained under review on a weekly basis, and that no final decision had been made. But a well-placed source said: "It is our intention to do this before the election if we can."

Last night the Tories, who have been consistent critics of the scheme, accused the government of a cynical manoeuvre aimed at making life difficult for a Conservative government after the election, which is expected on 6 May.

Alan Duncan, the shadow prisons minister, said the scheme should be ended only when conditions in prisons were right, rather than for political reasons. "It is right that the early release scheme should go, but only when the correct measures have been put in place to allow this to happen," he said.

"Labour is seeking deliberately to leave us with a poisoned pill by claiming credit for doing this in March, while knowing that it will leave us, after the election, with a crisis in June."

The early release scheme has been contentious since its introduction in 2007, with critics claiming it has resulted in murders and thousands of other crimes as prisoners have been let out early to relieve pressure on jail places.

Among the most controversial cases was that of Andrew Mournian, 36, who was released 18 days early from a jail sentence for attacking his partner, Amanda Murphy, a mother of two. Five days after his release, he battered her to death.

In 2008, Straw announced a ban on the early release of terrorists, following criticism after a man convicted of smuggling a blueprint for a missile into Britain was released 17 days early. Yassin Nassari had been sentenced to three-and-a-half years' imprisonment.

Under the rules of the programme, prisoners serving sentences of up to four years can be released 18 days before they would previously have been eligible. By the end of 2009, a total of 76,886 prisoners had been released early.

Ministers said the move was necessary to ease the pressure on prisons and would always be ended when it was "practically possible" and as more space became available. But critics have pounced on the timing of the announcement.

Harry Fletcher, assistant general secretary of the National Association of Probation Officers (Napo), pointed out that the prison population was still extremely high. "They are doing this to outflank the Tories, who have already said they want to scrap it," he said. Fletcher said the scheme had resulted in a reduction of between 2,500 to 3,000 in the prison population, but said Napo opposed it because of the way in which it had been implemented.

"We didn't like it because there was no home circumstances check and no risk assessment; so they just turfed them out," he said. "And perpetrators of domestic violence were being let out and doing it again. Because they are released three weeks early, it wrong-foots all the authorities. At least if we had [the time] to plan we could have put panic buttons in a woman's flat, for instance."

Gary Streeter, a Tory MP on the home affairs select committee, claimed it was a "cynical ploy" by the government to end the measure just before an election. "The early release scheme has been a great source of contention and helped to undermine confidence in the British justice system. Nothing is beyond them in terms of cynical ploys. But I am glad if it is coming to an end; people should serve their full sentence – that is what the public wants," he said.

Charities also opposed the programme. Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said it had made it difficult to plan sentences and prepare prisoners for release. "But, in the scramble to end it, will government be able to capitalise on the success of its intensive community penalties, or is it being forced back on pouring public money down the drain of needless prison building?" she asked. "Until a government of any stripe is prepared to integrate its social and justice policies, and invest accordingly, prisons will lurch from crisis to crisis and one politically expedient idea to the next."

News of the government's planned announcement comes at the end of a week in which the Ministry of Justice said it was dropping plans to build a prison in Barking, east London. A jail to house 1,500 prisoners was to be built on the site of an old Ford factory. But a spokesman said the cost of protecting the site against flooding was too high.

Last year, Jack Straw, the justice secretary, said the government was abandoning proposals for Titan prisons to hold 2,500 prisoners each. Instead, there would be five 1,500-place prisons, including the one in Barking and one at Runwell, in Essex. Officials said the Runwell plans were still on track.

In December, the latest month for which there are statistics, there were 2,187 early releases under the scheme. The Justice Ministry admitted that there had been 57 decisions to recall prisoners, with almost half linked to reoffending. A spokesman said last night: "Ministers have made clear they will end ECL [end of custody licence] as soon as there is sufficient capacity to do so; we are working extremely hard to build new places, with the fastest ever creation of prison spaces. We are keeping under review how long ECL remains in place in light of new prison capacity coming on stream.",
Sunday 14 February 2010
Toby Helm and Anushka Asthana

Make Justice Work

As we move into the party political gamesmanship which inevitably comes with a general election, criminal justice yet again will be used as a political football. Despite what politicians say behind closed doors - that is, in general they would agree with most of us who say we are locking up too many low level offenders and it is costing too much - I doubt they will see any votes in saying any of that in public. Yet it was interesting hearing Alan Duncan at the Clinks AGM recently talk of tackling "corrosive headlines" and the lack of cross party consensus in criminal justice - the two very real enemies in our battle to create a sensible criminal justice system. Perhaps we can all help him to tackle these corrosive headlines so that we can begin to breakdown the negative backlash caused by some of the ludicrous headlines which then hinder our ability to put in place real and lasting crime solutions.

Make Justice Work is a new media campaign focused on improving the public's understanding of the huge cost and ineffectiveness involved in locking up low level offenders for short sentences and the benefits of good community sentences which can reduce offending as well as addressing the reasons behind that offending. But critically the public will only be convinced if we can show them what works in the community.

I have just spent the most amazing two days with Youth at Risk, not only observing the experiences of the young people on their programme but also going through some of the processes ourselves. It has been one of the most rigorous experiences I have had in a long time and I defy anyone to suggest that addressing entrenched behaviours and attitudes is easy or unchallenging I have no doubt that most of them would have preferred a few weeks in prison. But sharing just a small part of these young people's transformation was a real wake-up call for those of us touching their experience. We all knew about Youth at Risk and the great work they do - but classically, seeing is believing.

There is so much good going on in our society around supporting young people like those at Youth at Risk. We really should be making sure that those outside the sector get a glimpse into this world. Only then will people's eyes be opened to the possibilities and opportunities available to young people by such programmes in the community.

Roma Hooper
Make Justice Work

Friday 12 February 2010


The rise in the prison population since Labour came to power in 1997 has been dramatic, with a third more people behind bars. But there has been an even more startling rise in the number of very young children imprisoned. In the decade from 1996 the use of custody for 10 to 14 year olds increased by a staggering 400%. England and Wales now stand out almost alone in Western society in routinely incarcerating large numbers of young children who offend.

The law is clear that children should only be sent to prison if their offending has been grave or both serious and persistent. Justice Secretary, Jack Straw, has further asserted that children as young as 12, 13 and 14 should only ever be incarcerated when it is the only way to protect the public. So are the teenagers being sent to custody guilty of grave crimes or of serious and persistent offending? Are they all violent? Do they pose an unmanageable risk to the public? In fact, research by Barnardo’s published last year (Locking up or giving up?) shows that many of them are neither violent nor dangerous. They have been found guilty of non-violent offences and some are guilty only of summary offences, the least serious on the statute book and those which, in the case of adults, are rarely punished by imprisonment.

Barnardo’s examined 214 cases of children under 15 who had been sentenced to custody but had not committed grave crimes or been given extended sentences for serious offending. We found that one in five was in prison for breach of a community sanction and nearly a third had not committed a serious or violent offence. Overall, 35 per cent of the sample did not appear to meet the custody threshold as set out in legislation. This clearly demonstrates that the government’s intention of making custody for young children genuinely a last resort is not reflected in sentencing practice.

When we looked at the life circumstances of the children it was depressingly clear that those who end up in custody are almost always those most failed by our welfare and education systems. Half had experienced some form of abuse, one in five were living in care,16 per cent had special educational needs and 8 per cent had attempted suicide at some point in their young lives.
If these children had been given the support they needed earlier in their lives there is every reason to believe that they would not have ended up in prison. Instead they are more likely to be written off by the age of 14, failed by mainstream services when it really matters.
Using custody for children who have not committed grave and serious crimes is costly and ineffective. They do not pose a danger to the public, if anything they are a greater danger to themselves than anybody else. Can anyone really believe that we need to lock so many of them away?

Enver Solomon
Assistant Director, Policy

Wednesday 10 February 2010

Children’s Rights Alliance for England

What is it about children that have come into conflict with the law that seemingly makes them so different to other children when it comes to protecting their human rights? Vilification and public shame are somehow acceptable when children are deemed “bad”. Yet the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child to which the UK became a party in 1991 gives additional rights to children in conflict with the law, to protect their privacy and best interests, and to promote their right to a fair trial – recognising their particular vulnerability when coming into contact with the criminal justice system. These children are often facing serious and multiple challenges in their lives, and may well have already been failed by adults and public agencies. Our obligations under international human rights law require that we give these children, like all other children, the support and help they need to achieve positive rehabilitation and develop to their full potential.

International human rights bodies, including the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child and the Council of Europe’s Human Rights Commissioner, have regularly and severely criticised the UK for its treatment of children in conflict with the law. With one of the lowest ages of criminal responsibility in the world; more children being criminalised at an early age as a result of anti-social behaviour legislation; high representation of children in stop and search figures; the over-use of remand; the trial and sentencing of children in adult courts; serious concerns from inspectors about squalid and unsafe conditions in custody; concerns about the quality and continuity of education and training for children who are locked up; poor provision for physical and mental health in custodial settings; strip-searching and painful restraint techniques authorised in child prisons; and 30 child deaths in custody since 1990, it is clearly evident to anyone who cares to look that our juvenile justice system is completely at odds with human rights principles. The best interests of children are regularly coming in second to political considerations. Perceptions of high levels of child criminality fuelled by a predominantly negative media and conflicting government messages about children do not help.

A radical overhaul of the juvenile justice system is urgently needed. In fact, it is long overdue. Legislation, policies, practices and child custodial settings must be designed and developed based on the framework of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and other human rights instruments. This would require establishing the principle in domestic law that custody should only ever be used as a measure of last resort, and always for the shortest possible period of time. It would require the removal of “punishment” from the statutory purposes of sentencing children and the introduction of a renewed focus on rehabilitation. It would require child custodial settings to be child-centred and non-punitive in culture, and to provide mainstream and high quality education or training for children. It would require that children’s own views and experiences are actively sought, responded to and taken into account in relation to all aspects of their lives. And most importantly, it would require the recognition that children in conflict with the law are children first, and as such their best interests must always be a primary consideration in all decisions affecting them. Only by taking this approach can we fulfil our legal and moral obligations to children and serve the interests of wider society by providing conditions in which they have a chance to thrive.

Children’s Rights Alliance for England

About the Children’s Rights Alliance for England
The Children’s Rights Alliance for England (CRAE) seeks the full implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in England. Our vision is of a society where the human rights of all children are recognised and realised. CRAE protects the human rights of children by lobbying government and others who hold power, by bringing or supporting test cases and by using regional and international human rights mechanisms. We provide free legal information and advice, raise awareness of children’s human rights, and undertake research about children’s access to their rights. We mobilise others, including children and young people, to take action to promote and protect children's human rights. Each year we publish a review of the state of children's rights in England.

Monday 8 February 2010

Adulthood: ‘Ready or Not’

Does adulthood arrive when a young person reaches 16, 18 or even 21 years old? No, gradually, most young people between the years 16–25 work their way towards living independently. The State, however, requires lines, boundaries, legal clarity – for entitlements, responsibilities, and so on.

As a result, the journey into adulthood can feel like dropping off a series of steep cliffs, encountered at 16 years, 18 years and sometimes beyond. Very few parents expect their sons or daughters to stand on their own feet at an arbitrary date; most support their children into their early 20s and beyond in some way or another. However, estimates put more than half a million young people aged 16–25 without no immediate family or wider community to help them. Many face a desperate series of no-win situations.

We work with thousands of young people, often trapped in a daunting web of difficulties. We help them as individuals, not just dealing with the ‘label’ with which they are sent to us – homeless, unemployed, care leaver, offender – and so on. Most young people want the same things as everyone else – to find a job they enjoy, somewhere safe to live and to stand on their own feet. Our work can make a lasting difference in young people’s lives, for their families and for the whole community, but this is not made easier by government policies or society.
Childhood and adulthood are not mutually exclusive life-stages. While childhood is considered a formative time, adulthood is seen as a period of attainment ranging over several decades of achievements in career development, family life, economic stability and growth and well-being. Jammed in between is adolescence; a ‘catch-all’ term for the stage of life that is not quite one thing or another and when policy, legislation, social and healthcare provision tend to work around arbitrary age markers.

During this ‘nearly’ time, many of the events that signify adulthood will occur. The fact that these events occur at this time does not mean that young people will always be able to handle their new responsibilities in an ‘adult’ way. This is largely driven by the subjective views of legislators and policy makers on when young people can be allowed adult status.

The arbitrary definition of adulthood based on age does not address the emotional dimension of becoming an adult. Nor, does it consider whether events in a young person’s formative years have secured them the best life-chances or if they have access to supportive networks like family, friends and community.

When asked if becoming a fully independent adult occurs at the age of 18, young people we spoke to overwhelmingly said “No”. When asked to identify the events that indicate becoming an adult, common responses were
• Moving out of your parents or carers home
• Being responsible for your personal health and well being
• Caring for someone else

We know young people between 16 and 25 have distinct and acute support needs, which require tailored interventions. We are particularly concerned about the provision of resettlement services for young offenders.

Catch22 piloted a two-year project called RESET that tested various models of resettlement support for young people. The partnership aimed to make a real difference to the lives of young offenders and develop a resettlement model that could be widely adopted to help cut reoffending levels. It involved more than 50 partners, including the YJB, the prison service and the DCFS. The service provides:
• A dedicated resettlement support worker to provide personal support and
practical help and co-ordination of a package of care,
• Education and/or training, with specialist assistance to access this,
• Specialist family support, mediation where needed,
• Mentoring where appropriate,
• Supported accommodation where needed,
• Help with any substance misuse, as needed, and
• Assistance for young people to take ownership of their resettlement and future.

A cost-benefit analysis of the pilot showed that where a persistent offender is offered an effective resettlement package, the frequency and seriousness of offending is reduced, and the cost to the taxpayer is reduced to £65,707 – a saving of £12,333 per offender against the normal average cost of £78,040 per year.

If this saving is expressed across the total number of young people aged 15-17 who are given DTOs (Detention and Training Orders) in England and Wales (approximately between 6,000 and 6,500) the total saving to the taxpayer is £80 million.

While the limited sample size of the RESET pilot would need to be reinforced by further reconviction studies before concrete conclusions could be drawn, even a conservative assumption shows that good support in resettlement leads to a reduction of 35% in frequency and 10% in seriousness of offending.

It would be wrong to assume that every young person requires specific support during this transitional phase of their life, however, to assume that the need for support will neatly arise at a specific age is nonsense. It would seem that determining policies and legislation based on age criteria helps the legislators and policy makers but does not help those they are intended to support.

The majority of young people we asked agreed that becoming an adult is not a matter of reaching a certain age as people mature at different speeds. We need a system that formally recognises the transition to adulthood and supports those passing through it with policies and legislation that deliver around need and not birthday.

Vulnerable young people; those in tough situations, are often disproportionately affected by the gaps in support created by a ‘single point of entry’ approach to adulthood. As our policy makers and legislators continue to enforce an artificial and one-dimensional view of when becoming an adult occurs; we believe that now is the time for decisive action to overhaul our entire approach to young adulthood. We need to recognise that the period of late teens and mid-20s is a vital period of transition and young people who lack a family and community network to give them emotional and financial support need better coordinated policies.

We must create clear accountability for the achievement of basic outcomes in the lives of young adults. This accountability framework should extend from central government downwards, and should include policies that secure good outcomes: a job, a safe place to live and a stable future, and thereby avoid the damaging impact of negative labels.

Joyce Moseley
Chief Executive

Friday 5 February 2010

Attend to consciousness, the key factor.

I think it is worthwhile pointing out, as this film will, that it is unhelpful to our children, who will be our nation’s citizens, to exaggerate the scale of problems that they are responsible for.

I would, however, like to take a different approach to that of criticising anyone, including the journalists and the media, and offer proven solutions to the problems that our children are experiencing.

That’s my profession, giving people proven solutions. Or, should I better say, giving people the ability to solve their problems themselves in a more coherent manner. I am a teacher of Transcendental Meditation.
So many problems bearing down on our youngsters and it seems difficult to know where to start in attempting to solve them, particularly if the key problem is generally unknown.

The key problem is one of low levels of consciousness in the individual and in society. That one factor, consciousness, stands at the back of every decision that we make and, if you can change that then behaviour will change automatically. It also, of course, stands at the back of every article that a newspaper publishes.
If there is a good enough quality of technique to swing the individual spontaneously into a more positive pattern of life then all sorts of worthwhile spinoffs occur, both for themselves and people who care about them.

If you had a hand in choosing the benefits of such a turnkey technique would the following feature in your design? These form the outcomes of an initiative using Transcendental Meditation.

• Supportive and complementary to valued interventions currently in use
• Propagating happiness, reducing anxiety and depression, eliminating stress
• Undemanding for the practitioner, not a mental skill that one has to work at, it becomes a very private thing
• Something that the mind will like, and will be encouraged to do again and again
• Definitely not a religion, no belief is required
• Solid body of evidence to check, including case studies, putting it head and shoulders above anything else available
a leading brain researcher speaks

• Not necessary for all to learn as effect spills over onto non-practitioners
• Non-contextual—it will work anywhere in any situation
• Accessible to learn within a few hours
• Convenient to do anywhere.

John Markham
Director for Rehabilitation: Global Country of World Peace (UK)
Maharishi Foundation

Wednesday 3 February 2010

Tories 'distributed misleading figures on violent crime'

BBC investigation finds Conservatives omitted Home Office caveats about use of crime statistics

The Conservatives today denied distorting statistics amid claims that they distributed misleading figures on violent crime.

Official figures sent out for campaigning purposes to Tory activists in constituencies throughout England and Wales appeared to show that there had been sharp increases in violence during Labour's time in office.

But a BBC investigation found that the Conservatives omitted Home Office warnings that the figures for the periods before and after 2002 were not comparable because of a change in the way violent crime was recorded.

Instead of police officers deciding whether an incident should be recorded as a violent crime, the decision was given to the alleged victim, with the effect of forcing up recorded violence by an estimated 35% in the first year, according to the BBC.

The British Crime Survey suggested that people's experience of violent crime has in fact fallen by around 50% since 1995.

Chris Grayling, the shadow home secretary, defended using the statistics without any warning to alert readers to the change in recording methods.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme this morning: "There are certainly changes in the recording methods, but the point is that they are the only comparators available. They are published by the Home Office.

"We don't create crime figures. We use the official crime figures published by the Home Office. The Home Office has continued to use the same comparators. As an opposition party, we don't make the statistics. We can only use what the Home Office publishes."

Grayling said that the British Crime Survey was not a reliable guide to violent crime because it omitted offences such as murder and manslaughter.

He said that an independent assessment of the Home Office's use of statistics in 2006 found that warnings attached to official figures were designed to be politically advantageous to the government.

"If you talk to anybody in the streets, and particularly in the poorest areas which are most affected by violent crime, you will find people will absolutely say that violent crime has risen sharply over the last 10 years," he said.

"The reality is that that is the life they are experiencing. The problem we have got to deal with is not debates over statistics. It is actually sorting out these problems, it is delivering better policing in these areas and getting to grips with the problems in these communities."

Monday 1 February 2010

The solutions are already out there

The media coverage of the Doncaster boys who abused two other children has drawn vast and varied comment – but most of it has one thing in common - the need to blame. It has to be someone’s fault, the reasoning goes, so let’s find who it is and then we can all rest. Some are blaming the social workers, others the parents, then we have the politicians- they must have something to do with it, or maybe it was the Mayor for appointing a pie man to run its children’s services.

But when the blood letting is over, when anger has subsided, will we be left with a sustained desired to really understand the problem and in doing so find a solution?

Thankfully the media is moving on from simply demonising the two perpetrators of these appalling crimes. There is at last a willingness to ask why did these boys turn out like this? Research is revealing that neglected children have not had the nurturing experiences needed for areas of the brain to develop that enable them to control their emotions and behaviour. But then doesn’t it make sense that if a child is brought up with little care or respect, they may not know how to care or respect others. If they have been treated more like a thing than a human being, it seems fairly obvious that they may have learned to treat others as things rather than human beings. And if they are shouted at, abused, and their feelings ignored, they may become adept at shouting, fighting, abusing and disregarding the feelings of others. A little reflection and a desire to understand leads anyone to these conclusions.

So we trace the problem back one generation, and find that the parents of these anti-social children were neglectful – but then how did the parents become so dysfunctional? If we use the same reasoning we find two grown people who may well have been damaged from their own neglected childhood. It seems to me that if your aim is just to find someone to blame, you will always get the satisfaction you seek. But you may not find the solution. The solution lies in our willingness to understand, and to exercise one or our greatest human assets – empathy. When I worked with children in care 30 years ago, as a residential care worker – at first, try as I might, I couldn’t stop being judgemental of the children’s bad behaviour, until I got to know the home life they had come from – and then I couldn’t help wondering how I would have turned out if I had been through these young peoples experience of life. I thought about it for a while over cups of tea, on long drives or bracing walks and I came to my conclusion: taking into account my ability to get very angry about injustice and any form of parental heavy-handedness, I think my behaviour would have been much worse than the children I was working with. If you were to reflect on this same question, if you were to imagine yourself brought up in a chaotic, neglectful and violent household, how do you think you would have turned out?

Look at the pattern – as a group, offenders have lower literacy levels, and poor mood control leading to anger management problems than the rest of the population. Neglectful upbringing commonly leads to impaired brain functioning that results in poor mood control affecting the ability to concentrate in school, self-modify behaviour or develop empathy – which wrecks the ability to do well in life and have good relationships. Children who suffer abuse or neglect in childhood are more likely to become offenders. Some believe that neglect and abuse damages a child early and permanently. Yes, there are windows of time in our development that are primed for us to absorb deeply and become imprinted by our environment – for good or bad. But research also suggests the brain is much more plastic than we ever thought and has vast capacity to learn, unlearn and move on. Some may need more patience and support than others, but people can move on and grow. It all depends how far we are prepared to go to understand and help those whose life experience has been so much less fortunate than our own. At any point we can fall back on the short-lived satisfaction of judging others or we can take time to reflect a little, try to understand, put ourselves in another’s shoes.

And where will all this compassion lead? There is always the worry that if we reduce in any way the punishment we meter out for criminal behaviour there won’t be any discouragement for crime. But if we really want to cure the problem, perhaps its time to look around and see that we already have some exceptional resources – people Like Camilla Batmanghelidjh, founder of the Kids Company. Or Maura Jackson, who has worked to create turn-around environments to help women reduce re-offending through Home Office initiatives. Or Dan Hughes who has done so much to create successful therapeutic approaches for neglected children. There are other grass roots workers doing exceptional work in Youth Offending teams – like Denbigh in North Wales – or Parent Support Advisors self organising to set up innovative groups to help failing children – like the team in Somerset. Or staff in Family Intervention Projects around the UK. Just browse the coalition members on this site and see how much commitment and compassion there is out there making a difference. Not to mention the innovative prison workers, social workers, chaplains and volunteers who are quietly doing amazing work unknown to the rest of us, day after day helping to turn peoples lives around. There may not presently be enough of these people, but they are there.

If politicians and media focussed their attention on seeking out these innovators in social care and therapeutic interventions, it wouldn’t take too long to find what works and how best to train practitioners in these approaches. The solutions are already out there. Granted, the scale of the problem is large and has probably been steadily building for generations. But the very existence of innovative workers who know how to effect lasting change in people who have been given up on by the rest of society gives us reason to be very optimistic.

Wendy Marshall
Hope Mountain