On the 30th of March, the Centre for Justice Innovation launched its new research report, Equal diversion?, co-authored with Alexandra Cox, Senior Lecturer at the University of Essex, which explores racial disproportionality in youth diversion schemes.
The event began with an introduction by Stephen Whitehead, Head of Evidence and Data at the Centre. He explained that the research was driven by recurring concerns from practitioners about the existence of racial inequality in young people’s involvement in youth diversion. Aisha Ofori, one of the Centre’s Research Officers, outlined how the research team collected qualitative data to investigate this, interviewing Youth Offending Team staff, police, solicitors, young people and their families in two local authorities in England and Wales. The research findings showed that while youth diversion operates in a difficult environment, with better practice, the benefits of youth diversion can be made more broadly felt.
Panellist, Keith Fraser, Chair of the Youth Justice Board, called the report ‘timely’, given the current focus on racial disproportionality in the justice system. Keith engaged with audience questions about the barriers that young people from communities with low levels of trust in the system face, and encouraged removing the admission of guilt as a prerequisite to diversion, a key recommendation of the ‘Equal diversion?’ report. Keith also called for more training for professionals working with young people in the justice system, echoing the findings from a previous report published by the Centre, on young people’s experience of youth court.
Francesca Fadda-Archibald, Practice Development Manager (Early Help & Prevention) at Young Hackney, spoke on the panel and gave invaluable insight into delivering diversion for young people in an ethnically diverse area of London. Francesca explained how Young Hackney set up a joint decision making panel, to make the decision about who is eligible for the scheme as accountable and fair as possible. The panel consists of police officers, social workers, clinicians, substance misuse workers and youth workers, and in a new pilot, community volunteers. The panel considers the views of the young person, their family and also any victims in making their decision. This decision is scrutinised by members of the Youth Justice Board, the Magistracy and the Crown Prosecution Service. Francesca deemed building accountability a crucial step to overcoming historical and contemporary mistrust in the system.
Sophie Wainwright, Criminal Justice Policy & Campaigns Officer at The Traveller Movement, responded to the report’s findings in relation to Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children and young people. She raised concern over the perception that young people from these communities are not as willing to take advantage of opportunities such as diversion, which she considers to be driven by preconceived attitudes to what a home life and a family should look like. This, she explained, acts as a barrier to diversion and accessing the right support. Sophie also emphasised the need for action, and being open to changing practice in light of the report’s findings, to start tackling the barriers we know children from ethnic minority backgrounds in the justice system encounter.
It is our hope that this report and event, will lead to more conversations and better practice, so that all children and young people are offered a chance to change their behaviour and realise their future potential.
The recording of the event is available here.