Improving outcomes for young offenders

Alex Elwick

Matt Davis
Lucy Crehan

Bridget Clay

This review of international approaches to education and interventions for young people in custody identifies differences between judicial systems, and in particular youth justice systems, across the world.

The review draws upon a series of case studies from a range of high-performing jurisdictions in order to exemplify institutions, interventions and programmes which have either been shown to have a positive impact on reoffending or indirectly contribute towards these acknowledged or proven high-performing systems.

Based upon these case studies, a number of key features of provision for young offenders in custody emerge which, within their own contexts, contribute to a successful approach. These include:

  • Education is placed at the heart of an institution's focus.
  • Interventions are personalised and targeted.
  • Staff are given multidisciplinary training, often to graduate level, and custodial staff are also involved in the education of offenders.
  • Institutions are relatively small, and are split into units which are even smaller.
  • There are high ratios of staff to offenders.
  • Offenders are assigned mentors who work with them up to 12 months after their release.
  • Activities within the community are a key aspect of provision.
  • Residential facilities are locally distributed, situated reasonably close to the homes of young offenders.

Building on this analysis, a number of recommendations are made in terms of the future of youth custody in England and Wales:

  • Education must be made central to all provision of custody for young offenders: institutions should provide sufficient educational content for their residents; security staff should be at the very least multidisciplinary and at best a core part of the educational remit; and education should include social/life skills as well as academic learning (in particular numeracy/literacy).
  • Institutions must be sufficiently small in size to cater properly for their residents, with high levels of staff to residents: they should be locally situated in order to maintain links between offenders and their families.
  • Reintegration into the community must be a focus from the outset of a custodial sentence: staff and mentors should be linked to offenders both for their time in custody and for a significant period of time afterwards; and institutions should engage with their communities in order to secure education, training and/or employment for offenders upon their release.