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Criminal justice

Putting education and community back at the heart of youth justice

A teenage girl shows her work to her teacher and listens to his explanation of what to do next.

Ahead of the anticipated Youth Justice review, Chris Wright shares Catch22’s thoughts on the direction secure settings should take.

On paper, youth justice outcomes in the UK have improved significantly over the last ten years. The latest figures report 861 young people in custody in England and Wales, a 67% drop over the last decade. This must be celebrated.

Yet, despite this dramatic decline in absolute numbers, costs remain high and the outcomes of young people in custodial settings remain stubbornly poor. Educational attainment is low, custodial reoffending rates are high and standards of behaviour management and safety continue to decline. Young people leave our institutions with low future employment prospects and below average long term health and wellbeing.

By tackling underlying behavioural and educational challenges our children face, we will set them up to succeed. Custody must remain the last resort, but when custody is mandated, purpose-driven and educationally focused secure schools will deliver an effective answer

Catch22’s evidence shows that to be an active member of society, we all need three things: a purpose (whether education, training or employment), good people around us, and a safe and secure place to live. To be effective, youth justice solutions must deliver all three.

Charlie Taylor’s Youth Justice review has been pending for most of this year. While we’re hoping for wide scale reform – from funding early intervention through to sentencing reform, a greater focus on community solutions, devolution of accountability and an overall recognition that those in the youth justice system are children – we’re particularly hoping for a strong recommendation on secure schools.

So let’s give our young people a purpose. Let’s keep them in the community. Let’s give them good people around them, and a safe and secure place to live. Let’s let our young people know that we see them as having a positive contribution to make – that we have high expectations for them, that we’re measuring their success on their academic excellence rather than whether they fall back into the trap of crime. Let’s have conversations about what university they will attend, what apprenticeship they are applying for, rather than allowing them to graduate unchallenged into prison.

Purpose-driven, educationally-focused Secure Schools are an important answer to the challenge facing youth justice. An effective Secure School will focus on empowering young people to become capable, confident and compassionate members of our society. Risk and trauma aware, it would keep young people safe, turn them to positive lifestyles, and in turn, reduce reoffending.

In our view, a successful Secure School will:

  • deliver a safe and secure environment,
  • improve the quality of education and support services offered,
  • recognise and adapt to the specific and diverse needs of young people,
  • be an important and transparent part of the community,
  • have a clear and focused purpose and ethos throughout its service offering,
  • apply an integrated approach to continuity of care,
  • build and strengthen relationships with the young person’s family, carers and external support network,
  • involve the young person in designing and taking ownership of their own plans,
  • recognise and support emotional wellbeing challenges,
  • regularly assess the progression of the young person,
  • provide appropriate access rights, and
  • provide a conducive environment for positive growth.

A successful school will address the range of complex and multiple needs of the young people, delivering a programme that builds their character, resilience and communication skills.

This isn’t based on guesswork. We know this from working with young people for over 200 years. Today, we run specialist schools and alternative provision for those young people who need more support to succeed. We work with young people in care, and young people who themselves have been victims. We work in youth custody settings and across 20 adult secure settings. All of our expertise points towards the transformative impact that a Secure School could have.