Campaigners have welcomed proposals to give people leaving a young offender institution “the same level of assistance, resettlement and support services” as care leavers.
The Howard League for Penal Reform said the plan, contained in a government 10-year criminal justice strategy, would help stop young people being abandoned when they left YOIs.
The league’s director, Frances Crook (pictured), said offenders had to be incorporated within mainstream services and having been taken into the state’s care “deserve exactly the same support and help as other care leavers”.
Crook said the league was in the midst of several court cases against local authorities relating to aftercare services for children leaving custody. But she warned that the proposal would prove costly and should be funded accordingly.
Barnardo’s principal policy officer, Pam Hibbert, said young people leaving YOIs shared many of the same needs as care leavers, such as accommodation, training, employment and emotional support.
She added: “We haven’t cracked it yet with young people leaving care but this is an acknowledgement that they have similar needs.”
The paper also proposed universal checks throughout a child’s development to help service providers identify those most at risk of offending.
It suggested children’s trusts work closely with youth offending teams to intervene at the earliest possible point, “so that vulnerable children and those at risk of criminality are actively case-managed”. “Trigger factors” to consider include a parent being sentenced to custody or being addicted to “high-harm drugs”.
Hibbert questioned the effectiveness of the approach as the risk factors for criminality could not be separated from those for a range of adverse outcomes.
She added: “It’s about labelling someone as a potential criminal in order to make sure they get support services – that seems quite wrong.”
The document also proposed specialist mental health courts and new “hybrid” prisons, catering for offenders with severe mental health problems, to be introduced over the long term.
In the short term, it called for identifying those within the community whose mental health needs place them at high risk of offending and “encouraging them to accept targeted, mainstream treatment on a voluntary basis.”
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