The Youth Justice Board has reacted angrily over claims today that a high-profile alternative to custody for the most serious young offenders is failing and constitutes “soft treatment”.
The YJB said a Portsmouth University study, which called for the Intensive Supervision and Surveillance Programme (ISSP) to be scrapped, was a “snapshot” that was not nationally representative, covering just two of 157 schemes.
The programme was also defended by young people’s charity Catch 22, which runs a number of the schemes, who said that the research should not be used to promote imprisonment for young offenders.
Targeted at most serious offenders
ISSP schemes were set up in 2001 for 10- to 17-year-old repeat offenders or young people who would have received a jail term of 14 years or more for an offence if they had been tried as an adult. Young offenders are subject to electronic tagging and monitoring by youth offending teams and are required to attend training and education courses.
The research found that more than 90% of the 28 young offenders studied went on to reoffend after their period of supervision and surveillance had ended. Some young offenders, whose crimes included grievous bodily harm and robbery, also said they felt they should have been locked up and that the hardest part of supervision was “getting out of bed”.
The authors attacked a previous YJB-commissioned study into the ISSP carried out by Oxford University in 2005 for putting a “positive gloss” on the results.
Neither custody nor ISSP is effective
Co-author Tom Ellis, principal lecturer at the university’s institute of criminal justice studies, said: “It’s time to stop flogging a dead horse. Neither youth custody nor ISSP is effective for high-risk offenders.
“Most of these young offenders seem to be asking to be put in jail but what they are really asking for is to be removed from their environment, taught job-related skills and given supervision in the form of structured mentoring.”
However, a YJB spokesperson defended the Oxford study as “independent research”, which “showed that ISSP presented a significant reduction in frequency and seriousness of offending and is cheaper than custody”.
She added: “This is a snapshot – it can be seen as a reflection of what’s going on within a local area, but this cannot be representative nationally.”
The two YOTs in the Portsmouth study are understood to be based in Wessex and Sussex. The spokesperson continued: “What I can say is that we are aware of the performance issues of those two YOTs which we will be looking in to. It is not representative of other ISSPs.”
Catch 22 chief executive Joyce Moseley said: “We need to be careful when reacting to statistics about this group of offenders – these are young people who often have a history of offending and who have been identified as likely to reoffend.
No to prison
She added: “Above all, these finding are not a reason to revert to jail as an option for young offenders. Years of evidence have shown that prison doesn’t work for young people and must only ever be used as a last resort.”