Assistant Chief Officers Andrew Hillas and Patsy Wollaston, who co-lead London CRC’s work with young adult offenders, write for Probation Quarterly about the successes of the EXIT project.
Prior to the Transforming Rehabilitation changes, the then London Probation Trust began to place an emphasis on tailoring its interventions to addressing the specific needs of young adult offenders. During this period, it developed an intensive alternative to custody intervention called EXIT. It was specifically aimed at assisting young adults whose lifestyles involved frequent offending.
The aim was to provide a robust response to youth offending that would gain credibility with London sentencers while being sufficiently relevant to young people, so that compliance rates would be achieved and real behaviour change would be encouraged.
The EXIT intervention immediately gained widespread acceptance across London and after the results were obtained from several positive academic evaluations, it was decided that this intervention would be a key approach to addressing the needs of young adults within the new London CRC.
MTCnovo, the new owners of the London CRC, are also now implementing a cohort model of working with offenders, mainly based on offender age and gender. This included a cohort working with young men aged 18-25, thus enabling staff who selected to work with this group to develop specialised knowledge and skills
In conjunction with the Howard League, the London CRC then decided to run a multi-agency conference in June 2015 highlighting the specific needs of young adults, aiming to identify the key issues that young adults in the criminal justice system face. The conference was titled: The Hidden Agenda: Identifying best approaches to working with 18-25s.
Key issues facing Young Adults in London
Emotional Maturity – The London CRC has developed strong links with the Barrow Cadbury Trust (as part of the T2A Alliance) who have consistently campaigned for the needs for young adults to be taken into account at all stages in the criminal justice system, starting at point of sentence and moving onto the interventions provided in either the community or custody.
The Barrow Cadbury Trust have regularly identified that emotional maturity is often not reached until young men are aged in their early/mid 20s. Emotional immaturity is characterised by impulsive and non-consequential thinking, accompanied by poor ability to acceding to negative peer pressure.
London CRC helped to pilot an emotional maturity screening tool developed by the University of Birmingham, utilised in conjunction with the existing OASys assessment and initial sentence plan. We consider the use of such assessments to be crucial for planning future tailored interventions for each young person.
A further key factor that needs to be taken into account when working with London young adults is the prevalence of gang involvement, and associated incidents of violence that arise from criminal gang activity.
Being directly involved in the commission of, being victims of, or even witnessing serious incidents, frequently triggers mental trauma leading to conditions of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
The London CRC is currently negotiating with various health providers to deliver specialist psychotherapeutic interventions to assist young people to recover from such experiences.
In addition to the EXIT Intervention, London CRC have also developed several less intensive interventions that can be delivered either on an individual or groupwork basis.
These seek to help young male offenders to develop skills/ approaches to assist them to make fully considered and better longer term choices.
These interventions are also aimed at improving the young man’s motivations to engage with lifestyle opportunities that avoid involvement with crime.
The London CRC is keenly aware of the need to gain credibility and acceptance from the young person, and that many such young people will have previously experienced difficult relationships with authority figures.
As a result, the CRC has been enthusiastic to use appropriately trained mentors, who provide additional support on a voluntary basis and who bring specialist knowledge and experiences from which the young person can benefit.
This is particularly important in London where ethnic background disproportionality is a key factor. Over 55% of the current London CRC 18-25 caseload are from BME backgrounds; it is critically important to enable Offender Managers and Mentors to work effectively across difference and assist them to develop constructive professional relationships with individuals from a range of different cultural backgrounds.
This credibility issue extends to the partners that the London CRC have chosen to work alongside; another key issue for young adults is to provide relevant employment/training opportunities that are both realistic (in terms of the young person being able to succeed) and of interest to London based young men. The CRC has worked extensively to identify the best agencies that can provide such employment/training opportunities across the city.
Young adult transitions
It has frequently been reported that the age of 18 is a somewhat artificial and unhelpful boundary to separate young people who are still considered to be children from adults, particularly given the findings that young men don’t mature emotionally until their early 20s.
However, while society continues to consider a young person’s 18th birthday as the benchmark between child and adulthood, it is important that the CRC supports the transition for young people moving from youth to adult services.
In conjunction with the London Youth Justice Board and the NPS London Division, the London CRC has agreed an updated protocol for managing the process of young people moving from being supervised by a YOS to being supervised by adult services.
This protocol highlights the importance of keeping the young person central in the process, ensuring that she/he is kept informed of what is happening and the differing expectations that may occur during the supervision period by an agency managing adults.
The young person should also be given an early opportunity to meet with her/his new adult caseworker as part of a three way meeting with their YOS worker.
Furthermore, the London CRC is currently amending its interventions to make them suitable for use with young people aged under 18; the eventual aim is to possibly co-deliver interventions with the London YOSs.
This will achieve further improvement of links between the London YOSs and the London CRC and will enable both agencies to make financial savings by the economies of scale obtained.
Vulnerability and isolation
Research undertaken into the progress of the 64 individuals who were the first EXIT intervention group clearly identified that those who successfully completed the intervention usually had the strong support of positively motivated others. These could be family members, friends, members of faith groups or even professionals where the professional relationship had been well established.
Conversely, those who were unable to succeed frequently identified the damaging consequences of feeling isolated or only having negative influences around them as key factors as to why they were unable to comply with the EXIT intervention.
The London CRC has also identified that care leavers are disproportionately numbered amongst the London young adult cohort – almost inevitably young people from such backgrounds are most likely to be isolated with few support links.
As a result, the CRC is now liaising with the National Care Leavers Association to develop both a strategy and new interventions to assist these young people to mature emotionally successfully.
The Hidden Agenda Conference also involved a presentation that outlined recent research undertaken that revealed the large numbers of young people who had sustained significant brain injury (leading to a period of significant unconsciousness) become involved in the criminal justice system, probably as a result of damage to their thinking processes around decision making.
London CRC has partnered with the University of Exeter to explore this issue further, firstly to identify the scale of the issue and secondly, aiming to jointly identify new ways of working with this group to help them avoid committing crime and to succeed in handling conflict in a positive fashion.
London CRC considers this to be an exciting time to be working with young adult offenders, with a range of new knowledge becoming available to inform methods of intervention with this group.
For example, it welcomes the recent publication by the T2A and Clinks Effective Approaches with young adults: A guide for Probation Services – September 2015 as a further reference resource to best practice in this area (see pages 19-22).
This emphasis on highlighting the needs of the “hidden cohort” of 18-25 year olds is timely, primarily so that this group can be assisted to develop more constructive lifestyles and avoid a lifetime of involvement with the criminal justice system and secondarily to assist probation services to reduce the high levels of re-offending currently occurring with this age group.
London CRC assesses itself to be at the start of a process in identify best practice in working with this age group and welcomes dialogue with like-minded organisations who have similar aims and values.