Researchers from Manchester Met have published their review of Chance to Change, a deferred prosecution scheme piloting in West Yorkshire and London, which was supported by the Ministry of Justice. The review highlighted key benefits, including avoiding criminalisation, negative social impact, and addressing racial disparities.
Chance to Change removes the legal requirement of an admission of guilt from individuals who have committed low-level offences and offers them the opportunity to engage in a rehabilitation programme to defer their prosecution. Created in response to the 2017 Lammy Review into racial disparity in criminal justice, it aimed to divert people, particularly those from racially minoritised communities, away from the criminal justice system, reduce the number of first time entrants into it, and prevent those accused of an offence from receiving a criminal record.
Manchester Met and their partners oversaw a qualitative review in which Chance to Change service users and stakeholders, including programme practitioners, took part in theory of change workshops and interviews. A key benefit of Chance to Change highlighted in the review was that young adults could avoid going to court. As one Chance to Change service user commented: “I didn’t want to drag this out or I didn’t want it to be something that holds against me at the end of the day either”.
According to practitioners interviewed for the review, the programme offered an opportunity for individuals to access interventions and support packages tailored to their individual needs, to prevent repeat offending for similar offences. One pilot participant said: “[Chance to Change] is more flexible and adaptable [than other court orders] around the young person and rather than ‘this is something that you need to do’ “it’ was fitted to the purpose of that young person.”
One of the central tenets of deferred prosecution was the removal of an admission of guilt. This enabled people accused of an offence to access targeted interventions before a plea had been entered.
Practitioners delivering Chance to Change viewed this as a positive aspect of the scheme, providing individuals with the option to voluntarily engage and access support and help without a focus on their guilt. However, practitioners also questioned whether an admission of guilt should be required for individuals to take part in Chance to Change.
On the issue of racial disparity, responses were mixed. However, some racially minoritised participants said the scheme provided opportunities to improve trust in the police.
Chance to Change was perceived as supporting the development of a ‘child first’ approach to criminal justice as it provided the opportunity to avoid stigmatising, labelling and punishing young people as ‘criminal’. However, questions were raised as to whether there was still a risk they would be labelled once they started working with the youth justice service as part of the project, which potentially conflicts with the aims of the pilots.
Kevin Wong, Reader in Community Justice and Associate Director of Policy Evaluation and Research Unit (PERU) at Manchester Met, said: “The project has demonstrated the potential to reduce criminalisation and offer a scheme which affords individuals access to valuable support and resources, which they would potentially otherwise be unable to access.
“This is central to a child-first approach and could help to shape youth justice service delivery. However, the research also highlights the challenges of trying to address racial disparity and the trust deficit in the criminal justice system, with a single intervention or scheme delivered by criminal justice practitioners and agencies.”
Laurie Hunte, Criminal Justice Programme Manager at Barrow Cadbury Trust, adds: “It’s heartening to hear the positive reflections from the service users in London, who felt that access to tailored support and early interventions helped to divert them away from involvement with the criminal justice system.
“However, it’s clear that no one intervention can address Black and minority ethnic young adults’ deficit of trust in the justice system and policing. Furthermore, it was worrying to hear service users in the London pilot remark that they felt a sense of pressure to enter the scheme. Clarity in the application of the scheme is also needed with some practitioners unaware that an admission of guilt was not required by participants.
“It’s vital that the findings of this report are taken on board as these diversion schemes are developed to ensure they are robust and effective.”