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T2A Chair Leroy Logan MBE reflects on the findings of the Alliance for Youth Justice’s (AYJ) briefing paper on the transition from the youth to adult justice system – focusing on the experiences of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic young people.

A Black person with a grey beard, blue suit, and glasses

A spotlight on racial disparities

As the briefing suggests, young people who turn 18 while in contact with the justice system face a steep cliff edge. Studies show that this age is a crucial turning point where many young people begin to desist from crime with the right support and interventions. But rather than take advantage of this capacity for change, statutory services fall away. For Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic young people, the transition to the adult justice system can be even more challenging. 

This latest briefing from AYJ has cast a harsh spotlight on the failings of our justice system to address the racial disparities that have blighted many young people’s lives. From an early age, many Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic young people find themselves associated with criminal stereotypes. Labelling young people in this way is incredibly damaging, eroding self-belief and making it harder to move towards a pro-social identity. Once Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic children enter the justice system, they are less likely to be diverted, more likely to receive harsher sentences, and more likely to be sent to custody, sentenced or on remand, compared to white children. 

“Guilty before proven innocent… you kind of learn authority figures don’t actually care.” – (Young person) 

This can create a huge gulf in understanding and trust between Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic young adults and the professionals working in the system.  Sadly, these findings confirm what many of us working in the sector already expected. That’s why I welcome AYJ drilling down into the causes of this crisis, and what needs to change to deliver better outcomes. Too often, we focus solely on what’s not working and forget that we must create a roadmap for the future we wish to see. 

An over-stretched and under-resourced system

It’s clear that even with a diverse workforce, culturally competent training, and the best will in the world, the probation service is struggling to keep its head above water.  A professional quoted in the briefing had this to say: “Record levels of staff sickness, extended sick leave, people fleeing the service in droves – that then exacerbates every other issue we have. We can’t be ambitious, we can’t be progressive, we can’t make many changes if you’re barely able to keep the regime running.” There are many admirable professionals working in the system who want to do better for young adults, but they don’t have the time, resources, or support to implement creative approaches.  Without sufficient investment, the system can barely meet young adults’ basic needs – let alone support them to take steps towards a more positive future.  

Collaboration with the VCSE sector

In this depressing climate, the work of voluntary and community organisations has become even more vital.  Specialist Black and Ethnic Minority-led organisations have an intimate understanding of the communities Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic young people come from and how their experiences inform their behaviour and identity. As the research highlights, these grassroots organisations are well placed to provide nuanced support that recognises these young people’s overlapping needs – support that statutory services would struggle to provide. 

These organisations are also more likely to have lived experience embedded in their staff and support services, meaning they can provide peer mentoring and positive role models – both of which are essential components in facilitating the shift towards a pro-social identity 

Ring-fenced funding to commission specialist organisations

I believe that we could take this further by developing a model where specialist Black and Minority-Ethnic led grassroots organisations are commissioned to operate services in their communities. Funding would be ring fenced for these local organisations who have the expertise to deliver the best outcomes.  This model could be supported by local roundtables where information and knowledge are shared regularly so that young adults can access support from multiple agencies. Meeting in this way will also help criminal justice agencies better understand how these organisations are well placed to support young adults. Having buy in from all partners will be vital to the success of this model. 

The Newham Transition to Adulthood Hub is a great example of how this approach can work in practice. They have a wide variety of services in one space, so staff can consult each other on individual cases and referrals to different services are much easier and more efficient. Regular spotlight sessions are held where different teams share their expertise and explain how their services can benefit young adults.  

Grassroots organisations excluded from funding opportunities

Unfortunately, the AYJ’s report found that organisations with strong community links and knowledge are effectively excluded from funding opportunities. They lack the resources to compete with larger organisations who can meet the excessive commissioning processes and compliance requirements demanded by the Ministry of Justice and HMPPS.  However, many of these larger organisations lack the knowledge and cultural competence to successfully deliver these services. Shockingly, they often sub-contract their services at a lower rate to the very grassroots organisations that have been denied a place at the table. 

It is crucial that the Ministry of Justice and HMPPS immediately reform VCS funding allocation so that specialist Black and Minority-Ethnic led grassroots organisations can build the capacity of their services – ensuring every young person receives age-appropriate, trauma-informed, culturally competent services that reflect their entire lived experience. 

Helen Mills from the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies (CCJS) shares her thoughts on how joint enterprise laws disadvantage Black and minority ethnic young adults. CCJS is a member of the T2A (Transition to Adulthood) Alliance, a Barrow Cadbury Trust campaign that makes the case for a distinct approach to young adults in the justice system.  

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A call for meaningful action on joint enterprise was made in the House of Lords some weeks ago, amid new evidence that current laws act in a discriminatory way and require a parliamentary response.  Parliamentarians from all three main political parties raised questions following Lord Woodley asking the government: 

“What steps they are taking to address concerns that joint enterprise case law operates in a harsh way against young black men.” 

New data 

The question followed new data on joint enterprise released by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) last month. The data is the first official research in over a decade about joint enterprise, the common term for the set of legal principles that allows more than one person to be prosecuted in relation to the same incident. 

The CPS monitoring pilot, which tracked homicide and attempted homicide in six CPS areas, found Black young men aged 18-25 were the largest demographic prosecuted. Referring to the findings, Lord Woodley said: 

“Black people are 16 times -I repeat, 16 times- more likely than white people to be prosecuted for homicide or attempted homicide under joint enterprise laws. It is absolutely shocking, as I am sure your Lordships all agree. Does the Minister therefore agree that this proves indisputably that joint enterprise is being used in a racist way by prosecutors, and basically as a dragnet to hoover up black urban youth?”  

The CPS findings confirm those of previous studies. Last year research from the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, supported by the Barrow Cadbury Trust, found these trends have been consistent over at least the last decade.  

Calls for the CPS to monitor joint enterprise prosecutions date back to a Justice Committee brief inquiry in 2014.  However, the CPS only agreed to monitor joint enterprise prosecutions earlier this year following legal action by the campaign group JENGbA. Their case drew on several Barrow Cadbury Trust funded research publications, including Dangerous Associations and the Usual Suspects 

Next steps 

In Thursday’s debate, Lord Marks of Henley on Thames questioned the use of racialised ‘gang’ strategies in the prosecution of groups. Several peers also raised concerns about the high threshold for appeal faced by those convicted under controversial laws.   

Pressed about what the government is doing in response to the data, Lord Bellamy conceded: 

“It is an essential part of our criminal law to have a joint enterprise doctrine. The question is: where are the edges to the doctrine?” 

He set out plans for the CPS to extend its monitoring of joint enterprise across England and Wales and to review its guidance on ‘gangs’. Both are welcome. However, neither are new actions, having previously been agreed in the legal settlement reached with JENGbA.   

Helen Mills, Head of Programmes at the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, who are currently supported by Barrow Cadbury Trust on this issue, said: 

“We welcome the questions Lord Woodley and other peers are raising about young adults and joint enterprise. They demonstrate significant concerns, and questions about joint enterprise are a cross party issue. This requires the government to step up and commit to a comprehensive inquiry to address whether the current laws and practices underpinning them are fit for purpose, and what a fair, just approach to prosecuting groups looks like. They should not be to be dismissed by government as simply a legal matter to be left to the courts.” 

This blog was originally written for T2A (Transition to Adulthood) by Chair, Leroy Logan MBE.  He reflects on the lack of progress on the Lammy Review recommendations and what this means for young Black and minority ethnic adults. 

Last week, Prison Reform Trust published an update on the progress of the Lammy Review’s prison recommendations. Commenting, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust said: 

“More than five years on since David Lammy’s review revealed the shocking extent of racial disproportionality in our criminal justice system, our report shows that many of the issues he identified remain stubbornly persistent.” 

Of course, I welcome the transparency that this analysis brings. However, as someone who has worked tirelessly throughout my career to create a fairer criminal justice system, I am bitterly disappointed by the government’s lack of progress on its commitments. 

In his 2018 Perrie Lecture, David Lammy said: “You cannot be in the criminal justice business and not be in the race business.” 

And one cannot support children and young adults in the criminal justice system without being uncomfortably aware of the deep-seated racial disparities that exist. According to the Ministry of Justice’s statistics, over 40% of 18-24 year olds in custody are young Black and minority ethnic adults. 

That’s why the work of T2A is hugely important. Together with T2A Alliance members, we’re doing all we can to ensure that every young adult in the criminal justice system gets the support they need, based on their ongoing maturity and not simply on their chronological age. 

We often speak to practitioners across HMPPS who want to do more to support young Black and minority ethnic adults, so we must continue to create accessible resources and tools that enable them to do so.24 year olds in custody are young Black and minority ethnic adults. 

Training materials should cover everything from understanding how to talk about race and increasing cultural awareness, to learning more about implicit bias and discrimination. Listening to Black and minority ethnic organisations and the young adult they support will ensure these materials are grounded in lived experience. Spark Inside’s recent #BeingWellBeingEqual report highlighted the importance of this approach, and how promoting young Black men’s wellbeing can help them unlock their full potential. 

Learning how to support young adults to move from a pro-offending to pro-social identity will also be crucial. With a stronger insight into how identity and trauma inform behaviour, staff will be able to develop more positive relationships with the young Black and minority ethnic adults in their care. 

I know that the scale of the challenges we face may feel insurmountable at times. Many people, myself included, are rightly disappointed that so little has changed since David Lammy’s landmark review five years ago. 

But we must not let this deter us. We must harness this energy and relentlessly focus on the work ahead of us. And if you’re feeling a tad cynical, which is completely understandable, I invite you to delve into the power of optimism. 

Want to learn more about how to support young adults in the justice system? 

 

 

This blog, by Rob Allen and Dr Laura Janes, was written for Russell Webster to coincide with the launch of their T2A (Transition to Adulthood) report on young adults and parole and is cross-posted here.

The current Secretary of State for Justice has put the parole system at the heart of his reform agenda, introducing sweeping changes to both law and policy designed to “stop the release of dangerous offenders from prison”.

The changes have ranged from who may be referred to the Parole Board, to what professionals working for the Ministry of Justice can say to the Board in written and oral evidence. In the recent case of Bailey v SSJ the High Court said that one piece of guidance “may well have resulted in prisoners being released who would not otherwise have been released and in prisoners not being released who would otherwise have been released.” All the changes made by the current administration apply indiscriminately to anyone going through the process, regardless of age.

Young adults, currently defined by the Parole Board as 18-21-year-olds, only make up around 2% of its overall case load. But data revealed in a new T2A report on young adults and parole shows that there are some important differences in the characteristics of this cohort compared to older adults..

First, young adults are much more likely to appear before the Parole Board because they have been sent back to prison for alleged failures on supervision after automatic release from a standard sentence. The Board must then decide whether it’s safe to re-release them. Last year 97% of all initial ‘paper reviews’ by the Parole Board of young adults were because they had been recalled. Yet, across all age groups only 73% of cases concerned recalls.

recent report by the Chief Inspector of Probation found that “most recalls to custody were caused by homelessness, a return to drug or alcohol misuse or a failure to ensure continuity of care pre and post release – not by re-offending.” Young adults can be particularly susceptible to be being recalled given that their developing maturity may make it harder to comply with licence conditions.

Second, when young adults are considered in more depth and have a chance to explain themselves to the Parole Board at an oral hearing, they are much more likely to be released than older applicants. In 2022, 59% of all young adults were released following an oral hearing whereas the overall release rate for all reviews was one in four.

The T2A Alliance

In the 18 years since its Independent Commission published Lost in Transition, Barrow Cadbury Trust has worked tirelessly to promote a more distinctive approach to young adults in the criminal justice system through T2A. This latest study looks at a relatively hidden corner of criminal justice that needs urgent attention.

It’s very welcome that existing Parole Board guidance says 18–21-year-olds should be presumed suitable for an oral hearing if they aren’t released on the papers, but the study suggests more should be done to enable release at the initial paper stage or at least ensure oral hearings are convened as quickly as possible. Given the current pressures on prison places, it makes little sense to have young adults recalled to prison who are highly likely to be safe to release, sometimes staying there for a year or more. The Chair of the Sentencing Council has recently encouraged the use of suspended sentences where appropriate in light of the high prison population.

The report also recommends that more should be done to ensure young adults, many of whom have high levels of need, can effectively participate in the parole process with the support of legal representation. This could also go some way to counter the systemic discrimination that persists for minoritised groups in prison and which has still not been addressed five years on from the Lammy review. It will also assist the very few young adult women that come before the Board but who require a specialised approach.

Young adults

The T2A report also argues that the Parole Board should treat those up to 25 as young adults, which would not only reflect the latest research on brain development but bring practice into line with many other agencies. For example, thanks in part to the influence of work by the Howard League and T2A, courts should now take account of the emotional and developmental age of an offender, and recognise that young people up to 25 are still developing neurologically.

Greater application of this evidence-based approach by both the Parole Board and HMPPS will bring parole more into line with other parts of the system. The report makes a number of simple recommendations such as making sure the Board asks for the right kind of information before reaching a decision. When a young person has been in care, the Board should have information from social services. The Board should also interpret the test for release which it must apply in the light of what’s known about how young people mature, and how their risks of causing harm can be managed and reduced. The report recommends that the prison service gives young adults better access to the programmes, relationships and assistance which can help them prepare for success on release.

Probation

Probation is also encouraged to provide more individualised support for young adults on licence in the community, but which does not overload them with complex requirements or impose conditions all but impossible to meet. The report finds mixed views about whether young adults are recalled too much but recommends this should be kept under close review, along with safeguards to prevent them going back to prison unnecessarily.

Given the relatively small number of young adults going through the parole process, and the obvious benefits to reform, it is hoped that these recommendations will be both feasible and welcomed.

T2A Chair, Leroy Logan, blogs about the relevance and importance of Spark Inside’s new report, Being Well, Being Equal. This blog was initially posted on the T2A website.

“I was quite positive when I went inside and I think the system strips you of that. And once it has been stripped you then have the issue of well, trying to get that back and they are not putting support in place to rebuild that.” (Young adult, Being Well Being Equal Report)

When we see young adults in the criminal justice system solely as people to be punished, we deny them the opportunity to forge a better future. We rob them of their full potential. If we don’t rehabilitate young adults at this crucial juncture in their development, the desistance process becomes much more complex after the age of 25 due to the “scarring effect” of “new adversities which are emergent in adulthood” (University of Edinburgh Study March 2022).

Prisons should focus on the rehabilitation of every individual. Young adults who are given the chance to grow, develop and realise their potential during their time in prison are less likely to reoffend – and more likely to positively contribute to society.  This is exemplified in a new report from Spark Inside. Its detailed paper Being Well, Being Equal contains a comprehensive list of recommendations on how we can prioritise the wellbeing of young men, and particularly young Black men in the criminal justice system. Spark Inside’s recommendations could not be more timely when we consider the scale of the challenges young adults face.

A 2021 thematic report from HM Chief Inspector of Prisons (HMIP) on the outcomes of young adults in custody stated: “if action is not taken, outcomes for this group and society will remain poor for the next decade and beyond.” The December 2022 HMIP thematic review into the experiences of adult black male prisoners and black prison staff found that lack of trust in prison staff was a significant barrier to asking for support.

“Prisoners generally had low expectations of the help that they might be given if they needed support; some gave examples of times when they or friends had sought support and not received it, and others did not feel that staff had the cultural sensitivity, expertise or experience to help them, and therefore did not want to ask for help.” (HMIP, 2022)

This places young Black men in the criminal justice system in an incredibly vulnerable position – one where they feel unable to seek help from the very people who have a duty of care to keep them safe.

The evidence is clear. We must act now. But where to start? Spark Inside believes we need to listen to the voices and experiences of young adults and the organisations that advocate on their behalf. Involving Black-led and Black specialist organisations in the development of wellbeing strategies will lead to greater engagement and trust on both sides – creating an approach to young Black men’s mental health and wellbeing that considers their distinct needs.

Empowering young adults to play a role in shaping policy and practice is also key. Being able to actively participate in matters that have a huge impact on their lives will boost their self-confidence, self-esteem, sense of agency, and wellbeing. Spark Inside have rightly identified that training and coaching will be vital to see through the report’s recommendations.

Many prison and probation officers want to do more to support young adults, but they don’t have the resources, time or support. HMPPS ringfencing time for staff to receive specialist training will help them understand how to effectively meet the needs of young adults – leading to more open and positive relationships. It will also help people working across the prison estate to explore and challenge discriminatory attitudes towards young adults, particularly young Black adults.

Right now, with organisations like Spark Inside working directly with young adults, we have a chance to create a criminal justice system that focuses on rehabilitation rather than punishment. A system where young adults can gain the skills and confidence they need to thrive. A system where every young adult can unlock their full potential. But we need to grab this chance with both hands if we are to ever make it a reality.

 

Doctor Kate Paradine @klparadine consultant and former CEO of Women in Prison, shares her thoughts on the recently published delivery plan for the 2018 Government Strategy on Women’s Offending 

“A goal without a plan is just a wish” Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Last week’s publication of the long-awaited Delivery Plan for the 2018 Government Strategy on women’s offending has been met with a warm, but guarded, welcome by charities and others working to reduce the harm caused to women by the criminal justice system and prison. In January 2022 a National Audit Office report criticised the “disappointing” progress in implementing the strategy. This and the Public Accounts Committee report in April 2022 called for the Ministry of Justice to get a grip on delivery with a clear plan, funding and measures of progress.

Opportunity for change

The resulting Delivery Plan presents a real opportunity to create lasting change in this area. The three original Strategy aims – 1) Prevention and early intervention 2) Reducing the use of prison whilst increasing use of community sentences 3) Improving outcomes for women in custody – are now joined by a fourth: Improving outcomes for women on release. Ministry of Justice reporting on progress with the Plan will include remaining actions from both the Farmer Report (on the role of families) and the Concordat (to promote multi-agency action). The Delivery Plan includes much needed metrics about impact (rather than outputs) with baselines to measure progress, including on rates of arrest and prosecutions, numbers of prison sentences, reoffending and employment rates etc.

Omissions

There are some gaps in the Plan. It needs to explicitly include the Tackling Double Disadvantage: Ten-Point Action Plan published by an alliance of organisations led by Hibiscus, which has clear actions for change to address the double disadvantage experienced by Black, Asian and minoritised women.  Unfortunately, the voices, strengths, and assets of women in the system don’t feature in the way they should. This has to be a golden thread throughout implementation, otherwise, initiatives like Problem Solving Courts and actions to support resettlement are likely to be undermined.

Keeping up the pressure

How can funders like Barrow Cadbury Trust and organisations that are campaigning and delivering services ensure this Plan delivers “deeds not words”?  We know that shining a light on progress (and lack of it) is vital to influence those in power, to enable those involved to  keep ‘chipping away’ at change, and to ensure accountability if that doesn’t happen. Organisations like Prison Reform Trust and Women in Prison have shown that forensic follow-up on commitments is vital and helps prevents actions from ‘falling through the cracks’. Sixteen years after Baroness Jean Corston’s clear blueprint for change, this has too often been the story for women in the criminal justice system.

Collaboration and Coalitions

Members of the new National Women’s Justice Coalition (NWJC), Corston Independent Funders Coalition (CIFC), Agenda, Clinks and others have demonstrated over the years how women’s specialist charities and independent funders are key partners in delivering impact, but they are too often overlooked by those in power. Officials working on probation service reform are already listening more closely to charities working on the ground.  This new Plan is the opportunity to ensure these key players, and women themselves, are at the heart of a new system of justice. We know that “a goal without a plan is just a wish” and if this plan is funded and implemented properly, we could see a wish eventually become transformational systems change for women, families and communities.

 

 

In his first blog for T2A Leroy Logan MBE explains why the Inclusive Britain report is getting some things right about young adults but needs to put words into action.

Whilst I’m critical of the Government’s response to racial inequalities and associated disproportionalities, I was encouraged by its commitment in the recently launched Inclusive Britain report (the Government’s response to the controversial Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities report published a year ago).  The ‘Inclusive Britain’ report asserted that “young adult offenders (those aged 18 to 24) receive age-appropriate consequences for their actions and are discouraged from repeating criminal behaviour … we do not want to see them criminalised if there is a strong argument for a second chance, especially where individuals are motivated to acknowledge and learn from the experience. Where drugs offences come about through the exploitation of vulnerable young people, we want to avoid a cycle of victims becoming offenders”.

Why focus on young adults?

T2A has been advocating for age appropriate services for more than a decade.  In that time we’ve amassed substantial evidence from neuroscience which shows that the brain is not fully formed until at least the mid-20s. The upshot of this is that young adults typically have more ‘psychosocial’ similarities to older children than to adults in their reasoning and decision-making. Young adulthood is also a stage of life where behaviour change is more likely. There is a crucial window of opportunity where desistance from crime can be nurtured as the young adult brain is receptive to learning and personal growth.

 Working in the police service for many years, I witnessed first-hand the impact on young adults, their families and communities when they are in the justice system. As the newly appointed chair of the Transition to Adulthood Alliance (T2A), I’m pleased to see a shift in the Government’s approach to 18-24 year olds in the Inclusive Britain report but this does mark a different approach to some recent positions adopted by the Government. For example the legislative changes planned in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill which removes some existing recognition that young adults should be treated differently because of their developmental status. Nevertheless, key parts of the justice system, notably prisons and probation, acknowledge that young adulthood extends up to the age of 25 and require a distinct service.

Disproportionality

At T2A, we are very concerned by the significant and growing disproportionality of young adults of colour in the criminal justice system. These disparities have continued to increase as consecutive governments have failed to hear and deliver on the recommendations from several reviews of the criminal justice system — such as the 2017 Lammy Review,  and going back many years now the Macpherson Inquiry — where potential reasons for racial disparities were explored and the need for more systematic research to understand the causes has been identified.

Next steps

I would like to see the government go further and commit to providing age appropriate services, which tackle long-standing inequalities, right across the criminal justice system.

Recently the government showed its intent to invest in supporting families with complex needs and has asked the Children’s Commissioner to review the way public services understand the needs of children and families. We would like to see this extended to young adults up to 25.  Young people typically reach what might have been seen as traditional milestones of adulthood at a much older age than when I started my policing career. Young adults and their families generally have access to fewer supportive public services than children because there a cliff edge of provision dropping away when they turn 18.

Young adult vulnerability

Because of their age, young adults involved in serious crime are rarely viewed as possible victims but rather as highly culpable perpetrators. While I welcome recent significant shifts in understanding the nature of youth criminality and the role of exploitation in violent and drug-related offences, this has typically focused on those who are demonstrably young and vulnerable. The fact that the vulnerability of those young adults may well have brought them into crime is rarely recognised. For instance, recent statistics from MOPAC (Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime)  in London show that only 22% of referrals for support are aged 18-25. However, 69% of people known to be involved in County Lines are aged 18-25. [MOPAC, Rescue and Response Strategic Assessment]. And research shows that public services can disproportionately view black young people as adults before they are 18 and have higher expectations of them in a process known as ‘adultification’.

Talking to young adults

T2A places utmost importance on developing solutions with people who are experts because of their own experience of the criminal justice system. In implementing the actions set out in the ‘Inclusive Britain’ report, the Government could usefully engage with young adults of colour, for example, through organisations like Leaders Unlocked. In the Leaders Unlocked report Race and the Criminal Justice System, young adults provided powerful testimony of their experiences of engaging with public services which make for sobering reading.  They demonstrate a lack of trust in the system starting in childhood. Once involved in the criminal justice system, young adults find that they are perceived through a narrow lens as a perpetrator or a criminal.  They may find it challenging to move on from their offence and rebuild their lives, which ultimately is what we all want.

Leroy Logan MBE is chair of T2A
@T2AAlliance @LeroyLogan999

 

 

 

Some people may already know that Joyce Moseley’s tenure as Chair of the Transition to Adulthood Alliance (T2A) after nine years in post has now come to an end. The Alliance and The Barrow Cadbury Trust would like to thank Joyce for her work supporting T2A and dedication she has shown to its work over the years.

 We can share the news that Leroy Logan MBE will be taking over. The experience he brings from his time in policing and founding a leading youth charity will be valuable to advancing the work of T2A. Leroy will be talking more about taking up this appointment in early 2022.

 But first let us hear from Joyce Moseley OBE, outgoing Chair, and former chief executive of Catch 22. She talks to Laurie Hunte, Criminal Justice programme manager at Barrow Cadbury Trust about how she was drawn to working with young people and her time as T2A Chair.

When did you become chair of T2A?

I have been chair for nine years beginning in 2012.

 What attracted you to the role?  What motivated your interest in criminal justice and young adults?

Where to start! The interest in young adults grew out of many years’ involvement with youth justice. As a social worker from 1968 onwards I was drawn to working with young offenders and their families. Labelling theory was strong and it did seem to me nonsensical how young people were being stigmatised for years to come for the most minor offences when it was plain to see that their difficult life circumstances were the things needing attention.

Later as a Director of Social Services I helped promote the needs of care leavers as more and more research showed how they fared badly in later life. This led to the Leaving Care Act which for the first time meant help and support could be given to those over 18 to help with the transition into adulthood.

But I did reflect that when I was a young social worker care leavers were not seen ‘as a problem’. Why? What had changed? Although similar problems probably befell them in later life the act of leaving care did not present problems – there were plenty of jobs for 16 year olds, renting a room was not difficult, the army used to recruit many care leavers and there did seem to be more community based social support networks (or is that rose tinted glasses?).

So society, the economy, support infrastructure, family structures all changed in the 70, 80 and 90s making the transition to adulthood that much more difficult for the kinds of young people finding themselves in the criminal justice system. Not so of course for those going onto higher education where student accommodation, welfare support, financial and social support was still strong. No one expected students to ‘behave like adults’.

In the late 90’s I became one of the founding members of the newly established Youth Justice Board. Having been a Director of Social Services I knew what little focus there was on young offenders in local authorities generally  – elected members’ interest and therefore budgets did not naturally fall on young offenders. So whilst it was controversial to split them off from the social welfare system and put them more firmly into the CJS it did bring a research, practice and policy focus on them and their needs which had not been so strong before.

What was your work and other experience leading up to that and what was the relevance of it to chairing T2A?

As well as social work training and management of social services I also trained as a community worker and undertook an MSc in Social Research. During my stint at the YJB I made a move into the voluntary sector and I following my interest in youth justice and became the CEO of the Royal Philanthropic Society. RPS had been the organisation that set up the first residential treatment centre for young offenders in 1832! Reading their records is such an eye opener – attitudes towards and understanding of the young people was often more caring and thoughtful than one sees today. RPS merged with the Rainer Foundation which had started the Probation Service in the second decade of the 20th century eventually  becoming Rainer. Then there was a merger with Crime Concern, the charity that had developed much of the thinking around community safety, and Catch 22 was born where young adults were the central focus of the work.

RPS had a strong relationship with various European organisations that had shared the same philosophy back in the mid 19 century. King’s School, Canterbury, led by Rainer, and funded by ESF. In the early 2000s a European conference was held at Kings School, Canterbury, led by Rainer and funded by ESF, focused on young adults. We were very conscious of lagging behind in our thinking on this age group. Many of our European partners had both welfare and criminal justice systems that did not have the rigid dividing line at 18 that the UK had, enabling them to support young adults in those crucial years when, as we know now, they are still developing many of their cognitive skills. There was an important supporter of this conference – no other than Barrow Cadbury Trust. This proved to be the early beginnings of what became T2A in 2008.

One other influence was my time as a board director of the Tavistock Clinic NHS Foundation Trust known for its therapeutic approach to mental health. An adolescent department had been established back in the 1920’s. Adolescence had always been defined by the Tavistock as up to 25 for treatment purposes. They were early adopters of a  psychotherapeutic lens that regarded becoming an adult as a developmental process, something we now have neurological research to back up.

 Did you always know you wanted to work in this field?  If so why?

I’ve always been amazed when people say, ‘I have always known I wanted to be X or Y’. How did they know that? I have tended to fall into things without much planning! Getting into university was more luck than judgment and doing sociology at London was more to do with not having a modern language O level than much else. And what did one do with a sociology degree in those days – became a social worker to change the world!

So, no I did not have a plan although some fairly turbulent teenage years might have led me to respect and empathise with the young people I have worked with over the years. The difference for me was having a strong loving family and a good education.

Going up the management ladder in social services there were some good role models who encouraged me. There were also those moments when I realised that I could do jobs as well if not better than my colleagues (mainly male!) who were going for the promotions.

 What was the situation like at T2A when you joined? I.e. what was going on politically and policy wise and in the VCS criminal justice sector?

It is a trip down memory lane to look back at my early Alliance meeting notes. Take December 2012 – Chris Grayling was promoting ‘swift and sure justice’, the government said all community orders had to include a ‘punitive element’ and austerity was starting to bite. On a more positive note, Sadiq Khan then shadow justice minister spoke at the YJB convention saying he wanted to look at the merits and cost of the youth offending services having an 18+ remit. The ‘what if’ approach to history!

At T2A we launched the T2A Pathway which has acted as the backbone of the work and I think is still worth using as a reference point.

For the VCS austerity hadn’t quite hit. The Big Society ideology saved them for a while but as cuts hit local authorities the knock on to voluntary organisations really started to bite. Social Impact Bonds were all the rage.

It was wonderful to be working with an organisation such at BCT that committed their investments for the long term and believed so strongly in the voluntary sector. That really gave meaning and succour to the Alliance, I think.

 What do you feel has been the greatest achievement of T2A in your time as chair?

Can chairs ever claim achievements? I like to think that in the early days the many discussions/debates with Max Rutherford, (the former CJ Programme Manager at BCT), helped with the thinking that went into the T2A programme. I like to think I fronted some of the public facing events well – party conference sessions, conference chairing, speaking to the Select Committee, meetings with ministers and officials. And of course chairing the Alliance meetings – making people feel welcome, asking reasonable questions when needed, thanking guests, trying to politely curtail some lengthy interventions, reading the moods of the meeting and finishing on time. I’m only sad that face to face meetings didn’t return on my watch. But who knows they might never!

 What do you think the future holds for the treatment of young adults in the CJS?

A Conservative MP told me recently not to be too pessimistic about the way things are going. A bit difficult given recent legislation, the massive cuts and yet more structural change as well as an underlying lack of care for the young adults we work with especially those from diverse backgrounds whose treatment by the CJS is shaming.

I think the MP said what he did knowing that ‘things change’ especially in politics, so one can only hope. And despite the politics there are many good things happening – the T2A message has never been stronger and heard by so many people. To make lasting and embedded change we need to make it conceivable that young adults in the CJS and all policy areas are seen as a distinct group with specific requirements. And that doing so makes economic as well as moral sense.

 Finally, what do you think you’ll miss most about being chair of T2A?

Being a part of something so right – T2A is a coherent set of policy thinking and policy ambition, backed by research and evidence backed practice.

Cross posted from the  T2A website 

Coming to the end of my placement at the Barrow Cadbury Trust, along with the end of my two year prison placement as part of Unlocked Graduates, I’ve been reflecting a lot recently on what I’ve learned, which is, mainly, that you never stop learning. Being a prison officer is a hard job – that is undeniable. From day one, you can be thrown in the deep end, responding to alarm bells that lead you to all manner of dangerous situations. The practical experience is important, it has taught me skills I couldn’t learn in any other job, such as how to calm down someone having a panic attack in their room, how to spot someone getting themselves into debt as they play cards on the exercise yard, and how to stop a fight from happening before the first punch has even been thrown.

In amongst the first few days working in a prison, I was told on multiple occasions, from multiple different prison officers, to ‘forget everything I learned at training’. I can see their point, there are some things you can’t learn in a classroom, and like so many skills, practice makes perfect when it comes to working in a prison – you have to get involved and pull your weight, or else you’ll never learn. However, there is a key skill that I learned during my Unlocked officer training that has stood me in good stead for the last two years –a willingness to learn, and the confidence to say that I don’t know everything. I can’t forget what I learned at training, because I learned so much! Even if I found practical experience to be more useful to me in the workplace, that’s still information that started when I started my training. I think it is crucial for prison officers, as well as pretty much everyone, to continue informing themselves, and be prepared to admit they still have more to learn.

This is what I have particularly enjoyed while on my placement with the Barrow Cadbury Trust – I have had a chance to access reports that have drawn on information from all around the criminal justice sector, all of which can inform my practice in prison. By reading about young peoples’ experiences with the police, and with the courts, I can better understand the attitudes and perceptions of prison that young people have when they come through the gates. This paper, by Nacro, breaks down the process of how best to help a young person struggling with their identity, so they can grow into a more pro-social one, which is key to my work, and helpful for me to refer back to should I feel out of my depth. These papers are important because it is through understanding someone that I can talk to them with respect, and prevent moments of miscommunication, or omissions in judgment, that can lead to violence.

I will take the lessons from these papers, amongst others, back into my work, both using it to shape my actions and practice on the wing, and my conversations with fellow prison officers and members of staff. Discussing the day’s events in a prison is crucial, as it helps us process what we saw, and how we felt. Beyond that, I think it’s equally important to discuss how we can improve and talk about what we can do next time, to keep people safe. Preventing mistakes comes with practice, but it also comes with being ready, and informed on what’s going through someone’s head. Sometimes you don’t need to see it happen once to stop it happening a second time, you can stop it from happening at all. All these lessons, and skills, we learn, and I don’t believe we should ever forget anything we learn, only build new lessons on top of previous ones.

I want to say thank you to everyone at the Barrow Cadbury Trust for supporting me in the last two weeks; it has been fascinating to find out more about what you do, and also cheering to see the range and passion of people invested in supporting young people in our society. I hope to stay in touch with the people I have met, and hear more about the work being done to help bring about socially just change.

Hello! My name is Niamh and I am currently working as a prison officer as part of the Unlocked Graduate’s scheme. As part of the scheme, I have been given the opportunity to come and complete a 2 week work placement with the Barrow Cadbury Trust. This is my first week and I am excited to be here!

I want to use my blog posts as an opportunity to get more prison officers involved in the reports and research that are being published about the criminal justice sector. While working as an officer, it has been important to me to inform my practice using the most up-to-date research being conducted about my place of work. This kind of research is available to everyone to see, but often it’s thought that the only people who need to see it are policy makers, or members of parliament. This is not true! In these papers is a wealth of knowledge that can inform the frontline workers who are coming into daily contact with the people the publications are aiming to help.

As a prison officer, I come into contact with so many different people, often with very different needs, and understanding why they have those needs can often be the answer for how best to help them. Looking at papers like how to prevent young adults being caught in the revolving door, coming in and out of contact with the criminal justice system again and again, I can see the men that I work with, in the middle of that cycle themselves.

Catching them before they come to prison is ideal, but I know that it is never too late to help them break the cycle of reoffending. Research into young people who are care experienced, and LGBTQ+ people, for example, is important as it recognises and highlights the impact of different environmental experiences, such as spending time in care, or being discriminated against because of your gender and/or sexuality. This can teach frontline workers, such as prison officers, about triggers, which will help them build trust, and inform them about what people need with respect to these vulnerabilities, whether it be building a connection with someone who has found it hard to access consistent support in the care system, or researching resources that will help a LGBTQ+ person get back on their feet when they are released from prison.

Sometimes, working in a prison can feel like you have a thousand and one jobs to do at once, and having to cater for individual needs seems like an unnecessary additional burden. While I understand that feeling, I also know that by understanding these individual needs, I can predict who needs what, and this helps me manage my time better, as well as building relationships with the men. This can be as big a thing as understanding how to help someone who has just experienced a bereavement, down to just wishing Eid Mubarak to the Muslim population who have just finished fasting for Ramadan. This is the kind of good practice that highlights the importance of frontline workers who want to see change in the men and women they’re working with.

Thank you very much for reading this blog. I hope you learned something from it, and I hope you read some of the reports I linked to – especially if you are another prison officer! Even though I work with male offenders, I think the reports are just as valuable wherever you work, whether it’s the male or female estate, young offenders or adults. I’ll be writing another blog next week, which I hope you will also enjoy. See you then!