Dean Woodward, assistant director, Lambeth specialist youth services, Children and Young People’s Service
Twelve months after the Youth Crime Action Plan was launched, initiatives are being implemented and enjoying varying levels of success. Lambeth is achieving particular success with its Triage programme, thanks largely to partnership working.
After two-and-a-half years of trying to reduce first-time entrants into the criminal justice system, Lambeth Youth Offending Service (YOS) has become familiar with the obstacles.
The primary obstacle is that it is difficult to predict which young person will be arrested. When the name of someone at risk of arrest is put forward by a school or other universal service, the complexities of these young people’s lives often – but not always – result in them fulfilling the prediction.
Trying to universally support every young person indiscriminately, in case any of them ever come to the attention of the police, is nothing short of futile.
So how do you predict with any certainty who these young people will be?
In April 2006, a Lambeth police officer proposed bailing young people arrested for a first minor offence to the YOS police for 28 days. The idea was that, during their bail period, the young person could participate in a restorative justice programme. If they successfully completed the programme they would be taken off bail and not charged. This would also mean the young person would – providing they didn’t re-offend in the future – avoid a criminal record.
At the time, this was a bold step into the unknown and was in direct conflict with the police’s “sanction and detection” target, requiring an enormous commitment from Lambeth police.
The Triage programme now has dedicated staff to support the process, and a strategic overview that provides formal, service-level agreements with the police. This has had a dramatic effect on the number of young people identified and referred to our YOS prevention team.
It is generally accepted that well in excess of half of young people who are arrested are arrested only once. However, as a result of the minor childhood offence they committed, they grow into adulthood with a criminal record to declare in forums such as job interviews.
Over the past two months, more than 80 young people have been referred to the Triage programme from Lambeth police custody suites, 30 of whom were diverted from being first-time entrants into the criminal justice system.
We have high hopes of the Triage programme’s chances of success. Already, we are seeing a five-fold increase in first-time entrants being referred to the programme and then on to services that support them and ensure they do not come to the attention of the police again in the future.