Sixty Second Interview with Enver Solomon
New figures revealed the government has failed to meet a public service agreement target to reduce re-offending by juveniles by 5 per cent this week. The Home Office report showed that there had only been a 3.8 per cent drop in re-offending by 10-17 year-olds from 1997-2004. Amy Taylor talks to Enver Solomon, deputy director of the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies at King’s College London, about the missed target.
What do you think could be behind the government missing the target?
I am not surprised that the target has been missed. In reality the multiple factors that lead children to re-offend, housing problems, mental health issues, substance misuse, a lack of education and training, family breakdown etc cannot be tackled by the criminal justice agencies. Solutions lie outside the confines of criminal justice in, for example, improved mental health care. Until and unless there is a more multi-agency holistic approach to addressing the causes of re-offending there will not be significant reductions in re-offending rates. What’s more, re-offending figures should be treated with some scepticism anyway, as most crime is not detected and does not lead to a conviction. The ‘real’ picture of re-offending is probably very different.
Some campaigners have said that more young people are going into the criminal justice system for behaviour which would previously not have been responded to as criminal due to the introduction of new police targets on arrest and convictions. What do you think about this argument?
I think that is broadly the case and, rightly so, the Youth Justice Board is aware of this and concerned. It reflects, what in my view is a creeping criminalisation whereby the reaches of the criminal justice state extend ever further into activities and behaviour that historically has not been the business of criminal justice.
A lack of face-to-face contact time with youth offending team staff because of too much paper work has also been blamed. Is this an issue you have encountered?
I have not encountered this specifically, however, I think that when you have more children and young people being processed through the youth justice system it is inevitable that Yot workers will have higher caseloads and so be under greater pressure. Consequently they are likely to have less time to engage with children and develop effective relationships. I am not saying that this does not happen, but I do think hard pressed staff struggle to find the time to do the work they would have done if caseloads were lower and more manageable.
Do you think community sentences such as intensive supervision and surveillance programmes need to be changed in order to have more of effect on the re-offending rate?
The research that was done on the ISSP found that the programme has had an impact in terms of a reduction in the severity and frequency of re-offending. This fact should not be overlooked and represents a significant achievement given the complex problems of the children who are on ISSPs. I think there can and will be improvements made to the ISSP. Ultimately prison should not be used for children who are vulnerable and have experienced deeply traumatic lives. Equally I think it is important not to measure everything in terms of re-offending. There are ‘softer’ outcomes that are very important, such as improvements in mental health, reductions in substance misuse, returning to education or training, sustaining tenancies and so forth.
Is the missed target of concern in terms of the Home Office’s budget freeze announced in the budget in March?
Future reductions in re-offending will not be achieved by simply pumping more money into the criminal justice or youth justice system. Resources need to be used appropriately, but overall and in the long-term there is a need to move greater resources into social welfare and health care for young people who are from disadvantaged backgrounds and improve services outside the criminal justice system for vulnerable children who offend.