Increasing restorative justice provision would reduce youth reoffending and halve the number of young people in custody, according to a major new report.
An 18-month study into alternative responses to youth crime in England and Wales by the Independent Commission on Youth Crime and Antisocial Behaviour has recommended it as the key to transforming outcomes.
The commission estimated the cost to public services of youth crime and antisocial behaviour was more than £4bn a year. It called for a “significant reinvestment” in early intervention and services to prevent children with chronic behaviour problems becoming “violent and persistent” offenders.
Its report, Time for a Fresh Start, highlighted methods of restorative justice used in Northern Ireland – which has achieved lower re-conviction rates compared with conventional court sentences – as the model for changes in England and Wales.
In Northern Ireland, youth conferences include the offender, a parent or appropriate adult, a police officer and, in most cases, the victim of the crime. The conferences agree a restorative plan that could be a written apology, reparation to the victim, paticipation in a treatment programme, supervision or unpaid community work.
Anthony Salz, who chaired the commission, said: “Investment in proven, cost-effective preventive interventions has been too low and children at risk of becoming prolific and serious offenders have missed out on timely help.”
He said the proposals for reform were “positive and constructive in promoting cost-effective prevention.”
He added: “They are fair to the victims of crime in seeking redress and they are demanding on young offenders who will be made more aware of the human consequences of criminal and antisocial behaviour.”
The report set a target of halving the number of children and young people in custody to less than 1,000 at any time. Methods to help achieve would include more use of intensive fostering as an alternative to holding children on remand.
The commission also called for an end to the practice of prosecuting children and young people in adult crown courts, adding that all cases against under-18s should be held in specialist youth courts.