Sian Rees, Policy Lead for Youth Justice and Young Adults at the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner (OPCC) for South Wales, shared with us their work with young adults involved in the criminal justice system (CJS).
Why focus on young adults?
Reducing offending and reoffending amongst the 18-25 age group is a key priority for the South Wales PCC and the Chief Constable. Young adults are disproportionately represented in the CJS and are now the most prolific group of offenders. This age group accounts for approximately 12% of the total population, but we know 18-25 year olds are committing 33% of all recorded crime in South Wales. That’s equivalent to 27,000 recorded crimes annually and 10,577 arrests, whereas offending has fallen dramatically in the under 18 age group.
The overarching principle of this project is to improve the prospects for the 18-25 age group, testing the impact of early intervention following a first offence and seeking to achieve the same efficiencies and positive outcomes achieved in the 10-17 age group in a wide range of public services and areas of social and health concern.
The aim of the project is to deliver support which: ‘Enables young adults in South Wales, to have opportunities, which empower them to live positive, independent, healthy lives’.
The 18-25 Diversion scheme diverts young adults away from the CJS and into interventions and support, based on assessed individual needs, that would effectively understand the offending and seek to prevent further re-offending. Through prompt, positive action, services are able to work with individuals to address vulnerabilities, underlying needs and divert away from crime and into healthy, positive lives. 18-25 Diversion also engages with individuals who are affected by the criminal offence through a restorative justice methodology in order to repair the harm caused and work towards ensuring the needs of the victim are met.
The initial 18-25 project began in 2013 with a one-year pilot at Bridgend Youth Offending Service. Building on the initial project, further funding was secured from the Police Innovation Fund to establish, test and develop an 18-25 Diversion scheme across the force area. The diversion pilot objectives were to identify if a diversion model for young adults could effectively reduce offending and support victims to move on from any harm caused. A number of organisations were involved in the development of the initial pilot: South Wales OPCC, South Wales Police, Youth Offending Services in Vale and Cardiff, Media Academy Cymru, Cardiff Metropolitan University, Vale Centre for Voluntary Services and the Waterloo Foundation.
The pilot ran in Cardiff for 12 months in 2015, and has since been rolled across South Wales and is being delivered at each of the four Bridewells. In Cardiff, Vale of Glamorgan, Bridgend, Neath Port Talbot and Swansea the work is managed by Media Academy Cardiff (MAC), a third sector organisation, and in Cwm Taf (Rhondda Cynon Taf and Merthyr) by the local authority DIVERT Team.
Because of the evidence of success, including an excellent qualitative evaluation, the PCC and the Chief Constable agreed to fund the project for a further two years (until March 2019).
The services provided through the scheme give young adults the opportunity to achieve the following outcomes: empowered to make informed life choices, enhance life skills, and improve health and wellbeing.
Evaluating its impact
A recent qualitative evaluation has been conducted. The review’s conclusions were overwhelmingly positive and it has established that the 18-25 Project has made a considerable impact on the young adults who have taken the opportunity to have an Adult Community Resolution instead of being processed through the CJS to receive a criminal record via caution or court disposal.
Sian explains that those aged 18-25 are still young, often struggling with the transition to adulthood, but the commitments that the young people make to change, or take control of their behaviour, will have a long-lasting impact. The opportunity to participate in this project is likely to be seen by many, as they look back on this period in their lives, as a significant moment that allowed them the chance to avoid a criminal record even though they were arrested. It does represent a golden learning opportunity as they transition from their youth to adulthood, a lesson that should hold them in good stead as they move forward in their lives.
When reflecting on what has been learnt from the project, Sian believes that the youth work methodology that is used to engage with the young people is very effective. The support needs that are identified and dealt with provide a practical example of how diversion, prevention and addressing Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) can work in harmony to positive effect. Acknowledging that diversion is hugely beneficial for 17 year olds and below, extending the principle for young adults aged 18 to 25 appears to make a significant positive impact on them too. The individual support needs that are identified are significant and varied and assessment makes a practical contribution to addressing ACEs. Without addressing the young person’s support needs, where they are identified, the work on consequences of crime, restorative practice and victim impact would not be anywhere near as effective. This work is important in sustaining long-term changes in behaviour, circumstances and lifestyle choices.
Innovation in Wales
Looking more broadly at the CJS, Sian really emphasises the research and knowledge of ACEs as important in approaching work with young people. The research undertaken on ACEs by Public Health Wales confirms what is widely known about young people in contact with the youth justice system and has shown how these experiences can seriously damage a young person’s future and must be taken into consideration. South Wales is trialling a youth justice response to ACEs. Convergence of priorities, resources and funding will provide a way in which an ‘ACE lens’ can be used to improve how they identify and respond to the needs of young people who are repeat offenders. The trial will build on the learning on ACEs and Enhanced Case Management (another example of innovative work taking place in Wales with young people) through further implementation and evaluation in the context of current national and regional strategy imperatives.
This case study was compiled and edited by Jaskirat Mann in 2018