Academic journal article British Journal of Community Justice

The Brian Williams Memorial Prize 2010-Winning Paper: What Do 'They' Think? Young Offenders' Views of Youth Offender Panels: A Case Study in One Youth Offending Team

Academic journal article British Journal of Community Justice

The Brian Williams Memorial Prize 2010-Winning Paper: What Do 'They' Think? Young Offenders' Views of Youth Offender Panels: A Case Study in One Youth Offending Team

Article excerpt

Introduction

Since the 1990s, there has been an increasing emphasis on the use of restorative approaches in the youth justice system. As a result, the majority of young people who come through the Youth Justice System will be expected to be involved in some sort of Restorative Justice Intervention (Audit Commission, 2004). An example of this is the Referral Order (RO) for 10-17 year olds, who plead guilty on their first offence (Home Office, 1999). Youth Offender Panels (YOPs) are a core element of Referral Orders and are seen as a way of increasing young offenders' participation in that unlike court, they play an active role and have an opportunity to explain their actions to the victim and members of the community (Crawford and Newburn, 2002). A number of evaluations have been carried out on YOPs in which young offenders have provided some very useful information however, this has tended to focus on 'user feedback' reporting their experiences of YOPs or on offender engagement (Newburn, et al., 2001a: 2001b: 2002: 2003: Crawford and Newburn, 2007). Although the findings from these evaluations have been useful in assessing the effectiveness of YOPs, the real voice of young offenders is seldom heard, consequently, much of the research is carried out 'on them' rather than 'with them' (Hart, 1992). As such their voice is not taken into account on any decisions that may affect them. Their level of participation therefore, does not go beyond tokenistic. Notably, very few studies have been carried out on what young offenders think of YOPs, as an intervention, and how they are delivered. This is at odds with studies that have shown involving young offenders in their own intervention has been invaluable in shaping the services they receive (Hart and Thompson, 2009). Involving young offenders in this way not only enables the facilitators of YOPs to ensure panels are run in such a way that meets young offenders' needs, but also acknowledges the rights of young offenders to have their views taken into account. This is consistent with the law and policy committed to increasing young people's participation in matters that affect them which applies equally to all young people under the age of 18, regardless of whether they are involved in the criminal justice system (DfES, 2003; United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child; Childrens Act, 1984). The need for such an exploration is heightened by what Kathleen Daly calls 'a gap in ideals and practice' (Daly, 2003:19). But perhaps more importantly, it is for reasons cited in the literature: because 'it works' (Halsey et al., 2006; NYA, 2007; NACRO, 2008). Drawing from the literature in the field, and on data gathered from semistructured interviews with young offenders, the findings from this study illustrate the importance of conceptualising young offenders as valuable informants in the delivery of YOPs. The study aims to add to the existing discourse on YOPs by providing an insight into this under-developed area with a view to strengthening the involvement of young offenders on YOPs to improve outcomes.

Background

YOPs have quickly established themselves as a deliberative and participatory forum in which to address a young person's offending. Inspired by the philosophy and practices of RJ, which emphasises the principles of restoration, re-integration and responsibility, YOPs aim to make amends to the victim and/or the community (restoration); help the young offender fit back into society (reintegration); and to take responsibility for their actions (responsibility). The theoretical grounding and rationale for this approach is mostly attributed to John Braithwaite (1989) who examined the concept of 're-integrative shaming' and drew on restorative justice models used by Aboriginal, Native American and Maori cultures, more particularly, family group conferencing and other community mediation practices (Braithwaite, 2003). The emphasis is on repairing the harm done to relationships, over and above the need to assign blame and dispensing punishment (Zehr, 1990). …

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