Youth crime and criminal justice are two topics that consistently reappear in the media, as questions are constantly raised about the appropriate measures that must be taken to reduce the rate of youth crime and reoffending. The landscape of criminality in the English and Welsh Justice system has changed dramatically in the recent years, although still a fundamental problem in British society the overall number of young offenders has continued to reduce.
Statistics published by the Ministry of Justice show that in the previous year the number of young people aged 10-17 reprimanded in custody fell by 21 percent in 2013/14. Whilst this suggests that current measured specifically targeted at youth crime are having their intended effect, it is anticipated changes enforced by the passing of the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 will further assist in the control and reduction of youth crime in three key areas:
1) Crime prevention
The criminal justice act is set to affect the youth justice landscape across all stages of the criminal justice system from when offenders first commit the offence involving youth cautions and referral orders to sentencing and secure colleges. The heavy emphasis placed upon the prevention of youth crime is undeniable, demonstrated by the extension of powers given to police officers and youth courts. Restorative justice and education will provide the essential foundations required to create a permanent and sustainable decrease in youth crime.
2) Detention facilities
A consultation paper published by the government highlighted two areas of concern regarding secure colleges and other detention facilities. Firstly, whilst detention served its purpose of punishing the offender questions were raised as to how this period of confinement contributed to their overall rehabilitation and levels of reoffending. The significance of education was citied as a fundamental factor in the successful rehabilitation of young offenders, allowing youths to gain qualifications that would allow them to pursue employment opportunities or further training.
In turn this would also reduce the cost of youth custody, the second area of concern discussed in the consultation. It is envisaged that firmly shifting the focus on the education and rehabilitation of young offenders will cause a significant fall in reoffending rates.
3) Referral orders & cautions
The passing of the Criminal Justice Act 2015 will have a number of practical implications in relation to cautions and referral orders, changes which are considered long over due. In light of the new provisions attached to the act it will now be required that an adult must be present when the conditions of the caution are put before the offender to those aged 17 and under. Previously it was only required that an adult or guardian be in attendance for those of the age of 16 and under. It is hoped this will ensure that the youth offender has a comprehensive understanding of the elements of the caution as well as fully realising the seriousness of the caution.
Similarly, the Act will also address significant problems with referral orders and difficulties posed when the offender commits a new offence or breach the order. The introduction of the CJCA will allow courts to exercise the power of discretionary revocation, ensuring that any restorative work will not be disrupted in the event a new offence or breach is committed. Essentially this will ensure that the rehabilitation of the offender remains a key priority, especially in cases where there the likely hood of further offences is considered or demonstrated to be a clear concern.