Young people in the criminal justice system

Of the 87,531 people in prison on 31 March 2012, 9,198 were young people (aged 15-20).

Children who end up in custody are three times more likely to have mental health problems than those who do not. We also know they are very likely to have more than one mental health problem, to have a learning disability, to be dependent on drugs and alcohol and to have experienced a range of other challenges. Many of these needs go unrecognised and unmet.

Youth Justice Liaison and Diversion

At the point of arrest, there is an opportunity to identify these needs early on, to link young people and their families with the support they need and to reduce the chance of people going in and out of the youth justice system.

In 2007, alongside the Department of Health and the Youth Justice Board, we funded a major national programme of six pilot Youth Justice liaison and diversion schemes for young people with mental health, learning, communication difficulties or other vulnerabilities affecting their physical and emotional well being. The pilot schemes were designed to ensure that children and young people with mental health and other problems get the help they need as soon as they enter the youth justice system.

You can read examples of how the Youth Justice Liaison and Diversion can divert young people who are coming into contact with the youth justice system here.

In March 2012 an independent academic evaluation of the pilots was published, which measured their effectiveness in improving health and reduce offending behaviour. Among the findings were that young people involved in YJLD intervention took longer to reoffend as well as significant improvements in depression and self-harming.

Mental health service models

In 2007, we were commissioned us to explore models of mental health service provision in the following areas:

  1. The health practitioner in the Youth Offending Team (building on the work already completed by the NACRO)
  2. Forensic Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services
  3. Secure settings (Secure Children's Homes, Secure training Centres and Youth Offender Institutions).

We conducted interviews with a range of health and mental health practitioners, youth justice practitioners, managers, commissioners and Directors/governors of Secure Settings. We also made contact with families and young people involved in the youth justice system.

All three final documents fed into planning the Health and Social Care strategy. The finalized documents are available below.

Download You just get on and do it: healthcare provision in Youth Offending Teams (1.3 MB)

Download Directory of forensic CAMHS services for high-risk young people (817 KB)

Download Reaching out, reaching in: Promoting mental health and emotional well-being in secure settings (1.3 MB)

Youth Justice Policy Watch

The needs of girls in the penal system - APPG reports


The All-Party Parliamentary Group on women in the penal system conducted an independent inquiry on girls and the penal system, with the aim of reducing the number of girls who entered the criminal justice system.

The inquiry focused on policy and practice regarding girls and investigated the decisions that route girls away from or into the criminal justice system. It looked at how the police and the courts dealt with girls who came into contact with the criminal justice system and the different approaches to working with girls, both nationally and internationally.

It made recommendations for reform across the social and penal systems and published two briefing papers: Keeping girls out of the penal system, outlines the initial findings of the inquiry and From courts to custody looks at provision for and the treatment of girls in the penal system.

Intensive Alternatives to Custody Could Save £500 Million


Research commissioned by Make Justice Work into the economic benefits of providing Intensive Alternatives to Custody (IAC order) instead of short term custodial sentences reveals they could save up to £500 million over five years. Matrix Evidence conducted the research using the example of IAC orders in two pilot sites in Manchester and Bradford. The research shows that prison for short sentences is an expensive and ineffective way to deal with offenders. Read the report's executive summary.

Read more Policy Watch items on Criminal Justice.


A Chance to Change

A Chance to Change

Parenting interventions can dramatically improve children’s futures but they must be made widely available, delivered well and targeted at the children who need them most, according to our new report.

A Chance to Change calls for government to spearhead a national campaign to raise public and professional awareness of childhood conduct problems and do more to support well-implemented and evidence-based early interventions.

£10.00 for a paper copy or FREE to download

Download size: 1258 KB

Download 1258 KB

A Need to Belong

This report is the result of an analysis of data collected for more than 8,000 young people at the point of arrest.

On average, young women involved with gangs had more than double the number of vulnerabilities than the other girls who were screened after arrest. The results of the screening shows clear evidence of the psychological vulnerability of gang involved young women.

£10.00 for a paper copy or FREE to download

Download size: 1.1 MB

Download 1.1 MB

Risk and resilience factors affecting multiple health outcomes

A number of factors impact upon young peoples' risk and resilence, affecting health outcomes, as detailed here

Children and Young People in the Youth Justice System

All Party Parliamentary Group for Children seminars reportThis is a collection of information from seminars organised by the All Party Parliamentary Group for Children in 2009/10. It looks at prevention and entry into the youth justice system, courts, custody, vulnerable children, the age of criminal responsibility and resettlement.