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Monday, November 4, 2013

Enough with the politicized knee-jerk response to selective interpretation of Youth Offending Statistics.

 According to David Barrett, who is a Home Office Correspondent for The Telegraph Newspaper, the “proportion of young offenders committing new crimes reached a 10-year high” (October 31, 2013)

 Telegraph Article
Mr. Barrett is correct when he reports that recently published data from the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has identified a 2% increase in re-offending rates since 2000 leading to the highest percentage of offenders re-offending. The response from the Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, is that the 2% increase is evidence that his “payment by results” reform proposals should be taken into serious consideration. This reform will create contracts with private companies and charities who will work with less serious offenders. These companies will only be paid in full if they achieve the targets set to reduce re-offending. 

What Mr. Barrett and Mr. Grayling are neglecting to mention, is the fact that the overall youth offending and custody rates are currently at an all-time low. With such a small youth offending cohort, it is not surprising that the percentage of re-offending rates has increased slightly. It could be argued that those who are still in the system are young offenders who are considered the most serious and challenging; thus, we would predict they would be the most likely to re-offend. Simply put, if your cohort has reduced and primarily includes only serious and violent offenders,  your statistics of re-offending will naturally increase. The fact that they have only increased by 2% is actually a positive given the offending nature of those currently involved in the youth justice services.

Taking a closer look at the statistics provided by the MoJ, it was reported that overall there were 137,335 proven offences by young people in 2011/12, which is a decrease of 22% from 2010/11 and a decrease of 47% since 2001/02. This overall reduction includes a reduction in criminal damage (-28%), public order (-27%), theft and handling (-23%), and violence against the person (-22%). Furthermore, while the rates of re-offending has increased 2% since 2000, the rates of 'First Time Entrants' (FTEs - first reprimand, warning, caution or court conviction) has fallen 20% since 2010/11 and an impressive 59% since 2001/02. 

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With regards to the total number of young people receiving sentences, there were 66,430 in 2011/12 which is another reduction of 22% since 2010/11 and 48% since 2008/09. This decrease is the result in the fall of FTEs.

As proposed above, while the overall number of young people involved in the justice system has fallen, those who are involved could be identified as more serious and challenging offenders. In 2011/12, the majority of proven offences were committed by young people aged 15+, with only 25% committed by those aged 10-14. However, this year is the first time in 10 years that the average custody population has fallen below 2,000 (1,963) with a dramatic 30% reduction since 2001/02 (2,801). Although violence against the person has decreased by 22% (as stated above), it is one of the most common offence types amongst young offenders in custody, supporting the argument that the current cohort of young offenders are the offenders who would be considered the most challenging.  
(click to enlarge image)

The breakdown of primary offence types indicates a high proportion of serious and violent offences. This year, 27% of young people were in custody for robbery offences, and 21% for violence against the person. Again, supporting the argument that the current population now consists of young offenders who are most serious and challenging which would increase the statistics of re-offending; not because of the failure of the justice system. In fact, based on the significant decreases in overall offending and custody rates, it could be argued that the current system is doing exactly what it is meant to do.

Overall, the politicized statement given in the above article is questionable given the fact that “in 2000, there were 139,326 young people that formed the re-offending cohort, in 2010/11 the size of the re-offending cohort had fallen 37% to 88,357...this suggest that young offending teams are working with a smaller but generally more prolific cohort” (MoJ, 2013). Making these generalized statements that “re-offending is the highest it’s been in a decade” and that we need to seriously consider “payment by result” rehabilitation methods is a very narrow minded response to the published statistics and needs further investigation. This type of politicized response is not taking into consideration the demographics and risk-factors of those who are not included in the small but serious offending cohorts. Enough with the politicized knee-jerk response to selective interpretation of Youth Offending Statistics. 

A. Neaverson 

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