Youth justice: new strategy announced
‘If we are to stop young people going down the wrong path in life and into a life of crime we need to be smart in our response’ – Justice Secretary Michael Matheson
Scotland’s new strategy to prevent children and young people from offending has been announced by Justice Secretary Michael Matheson as latest figures show the number of under 18s in custody has reduced by 70%.
Opening this year’s Annual National Youth Justice Conference, the Cabinet Secretary paid tribute to huge falls in youth crime and the work of agencies across the country, saying that the time was right to build on the success through a new strategy for Scotland.
Around 200 youth justice practitioners were in attendance at the launch of the two-day long event which will also feature leading professionals discussing current issues in the field.
‘Preventing offending: getting it right for children and young people’ builds on recent progress made in the youth justice sector and sets out three main priorities to take forward.
These include advancing the Whole System Approach which ensures young people receive the right help at the right time, improving life chances for young people and developing capacity and improvement throughout the youth justice sector.
The announcement coincides with the publication of a new independent evaluation of the Whole System Approach which has been in place since 2011. The approach provides a clear focus on early and effective intervention and diversion as well as appropriate support to improve outcomes for children and young people involved in offending.
Speaking at the Conference this morning Mr Matheson said: “We have already seen dramatic and positive changes in the youth justice sector since our decisive shift towards prevention in 2008 and on a recent visit to Polmont YOI I was extremely encouraged to learn that the population there has more than halved since 2007.
“The number of under 18s in custody has reduced by 70%, there has been an 83% reduction in the number of children referred to the Children’s Hearings System on offence grounds and there has been a 74% reduction in children appearing in court over the last seven years.
“These are significant achievements which have also made a major contribution to overall crime reductions in Scotland with recorded crime currently at a 40 year low.
“We are not complacent though and the new youth justice strategy launched today will continue to prioritise preventative approaches which confront offending in a constructive way – using an evidence-led, child-centred approach.
“I’ve seen various justice policies over the years labelled ‘tough’ or ‘soft’ but I think the time is right to move away from those kinds of descriptions. What we are doing in Scotland today – and will continue to do – is adopting ‘smart’ approaches, based firmly on evidence.
“If we are to stop young people going down the wrong path in life and into a life of crime we need to be smart in our response – ensuring timely, appropriate and effective interventions so that we can address offending behaviour at the outset and keep our communities and children safe from crime.
“Today’s independent evaluation of the Whole System Approach is very positive and confirms the tactics we have in place are the right ones.
“The report makes clear that our approach has been a major factor in enabling partnership working, information sharing and shared learning across youth justice agencies offering an all-inclusive service for young people at risk of offending.
“Scotland already has a proud record of taking an evidence-based approach to the needs of children and young people as part of our Getting it Right for Every Child (GIRFEC) program. By keeping this method at the heart of youth justice we can continue to reduce crime, improve life chances and make good use of public resources.
“Preventing offending is integral to GIRFEC and I look forward to playing my part in helping to ensure Scotland is the best and safest place to grow up.”
The new strategy has been widely welcomed across the spectrum of organisations with a role in the youth justice system.
Assistant Chief Constable Malcolm Graham, Police Scotland said: “Police Scotland welcomes the publication of Scotland’s new youth justice strategy
‘Preventing offending: getting it right for children and young people’ which sets out a clear framework to build on the progress that has been made in reducing offending and improving life chances.
“The evaluation of the Whole System Approach reaffirms the direction of travel being taken in Scotland and we are committed to working ollaboratively with partners to promote, support and safeguard the wellbeing of children and young people.”
The Lord Advocate, Frank Mulholland QC added: “The Crown welcomes the new Youth Justice Strategy and is committed to working with others to make sure that cases involving young people are considered in an effective and proportionate way.
“As Scotland’s Prosecution Service, we are committed to the prosecution of crime when appropriate and recognise the impact that involvement in the criminal justice system can have on young people. We will make the best use of alternatives to prosecution where appropriate to ensure that young people are treated with dignity and respect whether they are accused of crime or are victims or witnesses of crime.”
Claire Lightowler, Director Centre for Youth and Criminal Justice said: “We welcome the commitment in this strategy to further develop the culture
of continuous improvement across the youth justice sector.
“The Centre for Youth and Criminal Justice will continue to work with the youth justice sector to identify and deliver on actions to improve practice and ensure the strategy delivers real change.”
Cllr Douglas Chapman, COSLA Spokesperson for Education, Children and Young People, also supports the stategy, saying: “COSLA is supportive of the new Youth Justice Strategy particularly as it builds upon the good progress of recent years at a local level led by councils with their community planning partners in relation to youth justice. I am also pleased to note that it also continues with a focus on prevention, early intervention and providing
appropriate support to divert young people from offending to improving outcomes that has proved to be an effective approach. We look forward to working with the Scottish Government and other partners to implement the new strategy.”
Neil Hunter, Principal Reporter, Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration (SCRA) said: “SCRA welcomes the launch of the new strategy ‘Preventing offending: getting it right for children and young people’.
“We are pleased that it reaffirms Scotland’s integrated approach to youth offending, responding to deeds while taking account of the wider needs of young people, with the Children’s Hearings System at the heart of that approach.
“We look forward to working with partners to ensure children and young people who offend receive effective and timely interventions to address their offending behaviour and its causes.”
Michele Burman & Susan McVie, The Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice
Research said: “We very much welcome the commitment in the new Strategy to advancing the Whole System Approach as a means of both preventing the unnecessary use of formal measures, and for ensuring that young people in Scotland receive timely and appropriate interventions that aim to keep them away from formal criminal justice processes.
“Our research showed that closer multi-agency working, closer information sharing and the strong incorporation of welfarist values in decision-making and practice are important for ensuring better outcomes for young people.”
Brian McClafferty, National Youth Justice Advisory Group Chair said: “The National Youth Justice Advisory Group (NYJAG) wish to commend the 2015 – 2020 National Youth Justice Strategy for its continued focus on developing a ‘Rights Based’ approach to young people who offend while also taking into account the key drivers emerging from the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 (the 2014 Act).
“The strategy builds on the substantive progress of the last seven years through its continued commitment to the core elements of the ‘Whole System Approach’ and in specific the continued development and implementation of Early and Effective Interventions.”