Northamptonshire Youth Offending Service (NYOS) began holding out-of-court reviews of Youth Rehabilitation Orders (YROs) in 2014, shortly after the publication of Lord Carlile’s inquiry into the Youth Court which recommended the development of problem-solving approaches to youth justice, including components such as judicial monitoring. The meetings, which are chaired by front line YOS managers, aim to review the progress of the young person on a YRO, looking at their engagement in relation to the interventions proposed in court during sentencing. The young person, along with their carers and any professionals that are involved in the child’s YRO, as well as two specially trained magistrates are invited to attend the meeting.
The presence of the magistrates serves to convey the importance of engagement with the Order, however they have no statutory power at the meetings; their main purpose is to encourage and support the child’s development, motivation and welfare. This includes acknowledging good progress and highlighting where areas of the intervention plan require further attention. This problem-solving approach also seeks to increase the child’s sense of procedural fairness, which refers to their belief in the fairness of the youth justice and YRO process and in the authority and legitimacy of the magistracy.
How it works
The administration of the process is allocated to an Assistant YOT worker and there is no requirement for the case manager to submit a written report in order to avoid overburdening the staff. Panels take place on a monthly basis on a set day, usually in the afternoon to accommodate young people who may be in education, as well as parents where possible.
The YRO reviews are held outside of the court, in an informal setting, such as the YOT premises. By holding the reviews outside the courtroom in a more relaxed setting, it is felt that children and their families are enabled to fully participate, and avoids bringing children through unnecessary formal court processes which may have a damaging impact. Matters that require the amendment of an Order, are referred back to the Youth Court by the YOT in a separate process. Meetings are intended to be child-friendly and informal but purposeful; requiring the young person to discuss their engagement with the Order, including any issues they have faced.
This informal meeting demonstrates the continued interest of the Youth Magistracy in the young people that they have sentenced, and their support in improving outcomes for these young people. The process is also beneficial as it can reassure the Magistracy that the difficult decisions that they make regarding the Youth Rehabilitation Orders are well supported through the work of the youth offending teams and therefore have a better prospect of succeeding in reducing reoffending and supporting the young person to lead a crime-free life.
At the beginning of the project, NYOS provided a full day of training to 8 magistrates, and YOS practitioners continue to provide magistrate training on a rolling basis as new magistrates join the project. The training includes topics such as engagement skills, active listening, motivational interviewing and communication needs around common issues faced by young people. This additional engagement between YOS staff and magistrates has proved to be important in developing a strong working relationship between the YOS and magistrates. To justify the initial training required and to ensure consistency of the panel, magistrates are asked to commit to serve for a minimum of four years, where possible.
Outcomes and Evaluation
Those involved believe that the success of these panels suggests significant benefits in increasing children’s continued engagement with interventions and improving their attitudes towards the criminal justice system through their positive interactions with magistrates, who display an interest and concern in their lives during the informal reviews. Similarly, magistrates benefit from gaining a better understanding of the developmental, social, and practical issues faced by the children they sentence.
A preliminary evaluation of the model was conducted in 2015 by Dr Jenni Ward of Middlesex University which stated that the review panels are “a positive intervention that could be more widely implemented across youth justice services”. Larger scale projects with parallel problem-solving processes such as drug courts have demonstrated significant quantitative successes. The Northamptonshire project does not currently operate on a large enough scale to facilitate a meaningful quantitative evaluation, but it is hoped that if more Youth Offending Services adopt this model, it will be possible to measure outcomes in relation to reoffending, compliance and changes in attitudes.
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