This week’s panel
Lambeth, London – Youth Offending Service
Dean Woodward, Operations manager
Sara Kedge, Court officer
Roger Marshalleck, Specialist team manager
Margaret Fergus, Parenting co-ordinator
Olivia Miller, Youth offending service officer
Victor, 17, was released from custody, having served half of an 18-month detention and training order for possession of a firearm. It is standard for young people on these orders to be released when they have completed half their DTO, with the rest of the sentence served under supervision in the community.
Earlier release had been refused because of Victor’s involvement in a gang-related fight in custody. He had to be moved twice in custody mainly due to fears for his safety. Before his release, he indicated that he would enrol in a music course in college. However, he has not done so and has stated that he does not want any support from the Youth Offending Service.
Victor has low literacy and numeracy levels as he did not attend school between the ages of seven and 11 as a consequence of his mother fleeing a violent relationship. He attended the pupil referral unit for two years and then received home tuition as he found it difficult to participate in a classroom.
Victor lives at home with his mother and younger brother. His father is in custody for causing grievous bodily harm in a domestic argument.
Victor’s attendance at the Youth Offending Service office has been satisfactory, although he refuses to keep regular appointments and often requests the days and times of his appointments be changed.
Victor is understood to be an entrenched member of a local gang. His involvement is thought to be serious as he has the name of the gang tattooed on his neck.
Victor is to be sentenced on a second possession of a firearms offence. This offence occurred at the same time as the original one, but delays in police forensics delayed the matter coming to court.
The judge has indicated that she sees no benefit in a further period in custody and is open to an intensive community order.
Victor presents as a high-risk case to manage and there are several indicators to support measures that need to be taken to ensure safety in the provision of Youth Offending Service work.
The first is Victor’s history of firearm possession, which represents a high risk to the community, himself, other young people at the YOS and my staff. The second is Victor’s involvement in gang activity. Combined with firearms offences, this presents a situation where he may be involved in seeking direct retribution on rival gang members but also may be a victim of revenge. The final indicator is his pattern of changing appointments. This indicator is typical of young people concerned that their enemies are trying to ascertain their routine in order to find them.
The judge’s comments have created a likelihood that Victor is going to be attending the YOS Intensive Supervision and Surveillance Programme (ISSP), as well as the local community sector-led gun crime initiative, the Phoenix Programme.
Before, the community order can begin, this case will have to be presented to the risk management panel, with all partner agencies invited.
Police intelligence will be requested as well as anecdotal information from local agencies such as youth clubs. Depending on the feedback, a referral to the multi-agency public protection arrangements may be required.
One key question will be about where this young person is to be supervised. An arrangement may have to be made with a police venue used for administration or supervision, tied in with specified activities with Phoenix or the ISSP.
This type of high-risk case is not unheard of in this borough. Depending on Victor’s ability to move away from the gang, there is considerable scope for him to participate with the YOS. Considerable work seems likely in supporting him to understand that the protection and identity he receives from his gang involvement is overshadowed by the risk it poses to him and others.
The judge, in adjourning the matter for a pre-sentence report, requested consideration into the appropriateness of an intensive community order.
Due to the level of risk posed by Victor, I would take his case to the next available risk management panel to share information with our partner agencies. Available interventions would be discussed and a risk management strategy drawn up. The most pertinent agencies to be involved in this case appear to be our local ISSP provider and the Phoenix Programme.
It appears Victor is unhappy with elements of his lifestyle and may like to make changes. Resistance to support is typical of young men concerned about the level of intrusion into their lives.
The multi-agency nature of the YOS can be a barrier as many young people have poor perceptions of social services and the police, both of which are partner agencies. Often this manifests itself in young people indicating a preference to custody over community orders.
I would offer at least two appointments to Victor. After I have met him once I would introduce him to the workers he would be involved with as part of his supervision plan.
Victor’s mother would be invited to an interview, due to the nature of the offence. She would be consulted and offered the support of the parenting co-ordinator and parenting programme.
My recommendation in the pre-sentence report would be a community rehabilitation order with specific activity conditions intervention from the ISSP, combining a curfew with high-intensity intervention and a requirement to engage with the Phoenix Programme.
As part of the supervision plan, Victor would work on his violent behaviour and be referred to Connexions for support into college or employment. He would also be encouraged to participate in a restorative process for the victims of his offences. Victor’s mother is important in motivating him. I would recommend a parenting order to offer support as part of the risk management strategy.
THE USER VIEW
Victor is only 17 and is young and vulnerable. He is mixed up with the wrong crowd and seems to be putting his own life at risk through gun-related crime.
He has had a hard childhood, with his father being violent.
Victor has been involved in violent gang fights in and out of custody. If he receives a community order there could be a possibility that he wouldn’t be able to stick to the strict timetable due to his inclination to change appointment times with the Youth Offending Service because of concerns about his enemies. This would result in a breach of his sentence, and he could end up back in custody. Either way, he will not have learned that what he did was wrong.
Victor should have a chance to move away from his area and negative behaviour.
Perhaps he should have an order to stay out of the area and away from bad influences. He should have more help from the YOS to enrol on a college course and it should be part of his order, so he will be doing something that he enjoys. Doing this might make him stick to the order’s conditions.
Victor might be committing crimes as a kind of cry for help because he wants to get away from how he behaves he might be scared of going back to prison but prison might be his only way out of the gang.
Due to his involvement in gangs, there are others putting his life at risk. His involvement in his gang could be so serious that it is too difficult for him to get out of. He may not want to be seen by his peers as a weak person.
The YOS sees things differently from young people. There must be a reason why he is doing what he is doing, otherwise he wouldn’t do it. They should get to the point of why Victor behaves like this and find him help.
Perhaps he has learned his lesson after spending nine months in prison and has changed or really wants to change. Equally, he might be scared of change and need extra help to support him.
If he hasn’t changed and is not prepared to change there is no point sentencing him to a community order when all he will do is breach it.
It seems to me that Victor needs someone to talk to and to confide in, and who can think of ways of how to stop his bad behaviour.
Jade Saunders, 17, is a former young offender
● The name of the service user has been changedThis article appeared in the 14 June issue of the magazine under the headline “In too deep with the wrong crowd”