What works in managing young people who offend? A summary of the international evidence

Adler, Joanna, R., Edwards, Sarah, K., Scally, Mia, Gill, Dorothy, Puniskis, Michael, J., Gekoski, Anna and Horvath, Miranda (2016) What works in managing young people who offend? A summary of the international evidence. Technical Report. Ministry of Justice, London, England.

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This review was commissioned by the Ministry of Justice and considers international
literature concerning the management of young people who have offended. It was produced
to inform youth justice policy and practice. The review focuses on the impact and delivery of
youth justice supervision, programmes and interventions within the community, secure
settings, and during transition into adult justice settings or into mainstream society.
A Rapid Evidence Assessment (REA) was conducted to assess the international evidence
systematically. In line with English and Welsh youth justice sentencing, young people were
taken to be 10-17 years old when considering initial intervention, programmes and
supervision, and up to 21 years old when considering transitions into the adult criminal
justice system and resettlement post release from custody. Evidence was considered from
any country where studies were reported in English, and published between 1st January 1990
and 28th February 2014.
The majority of these findings are from evaluations conducted in the United States of
America and their transferability to an English and Welsh context should be considered given
the different legal and sentencing frameworks, as well as economic and social contexts.
Key findings
Key elements of effective programmes to reduce reoffending
In line with most previous reviews, effective interventions in reducing youth reoffending
considered the factors set out below.
 The individual’s risk of reoffending: assessing the likelihood of further offending
and importantly, matching services to that level of risk with a focus on those
people who are assessed as having a higher risk.
 The needs of the individual: focusing attention on those attributes that are
predictive of reoffending and targeting them in rehabilitation and service
 An individual’s ability to respond to an intervention: maximising the young
person’s ability to learn from a rehabilitative programme by tailoring approaches
to their learning styles, motivation, abilities and strengths.
 The type of programme: therapeutic programmes tend to be more effective than
those that are primarily focused on punitive and control approaches. Therapeutic
approaches include:
 skills building (e.g. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy; social skills);
 restorative (e.g. restitution; victim-offender mediation);
 counselling (e.g. for individuals, groups and families) and mentoring in
some contexts.
 The use of multiple services: addressing a range of offending related risks and
needs rather than a single factor. Case management and service brokerage can
also be important.
 Programme implementation: quality and amount of service provided and fidelity
to programme design.
 The wider offending context: considering family, peers and community issues.
Community, Custody and Resettlement
When applying risk based or other approaches to inform rehabilitation planning, it should be
borne in mind that some young people will desist from crime without any intervention. There
is also evidence to suggest that drawing young people who commit low level offences into
the formal youth justice system may increase their offending. Therefore, diversionary
approaches, including restorative justice, which direct these individuals away from the formal
justice system may be appropriate for some young people.
Within the community, effective programmes can be characterised by strong inter-agency
partnerships that are well managed, with appropriate strategic leadership. Partnership
protocols need to be embedded into routine practice. The best international evidence shows
that family based therapeutic interventions that draw on the community and also consider
wider offender needs can be effective and deliver a positive net return on investment. That
said, the family can itself be a setting of trauma, abuse and exploitation and this may be
particularly relevant for those young people who come to the attention of youth offending
teams. This, therefore, needs to be considered as part of intervention planning for young
people who offend.
Community based interventions tend to be more effective than custody. Some young people
will, however, always need to be sentenced to custody and these young people are likely to
be those in most need of intensive intervention. Where appropriate, consideration should be
given to moving young people to well trained foster carers. Good quality supervision in
custody also requires planning for release and resettlement to be an integral part of the
sentence, and for young people’s needs to be assessed in terms of transition back to the
community. Brokers or advocates who will help guide young people through this transition
and be available whenever needed are worth considering.
Prison visitation programmes aimed at young people at risk of offending were not found to
reduce offending behaviour; conversely, they may increase the likelihood of committing
crime. Military style ‘boot camps’ run as alternative to custody were also found not to reduce
No one style of talking with or to young people is going to resonate either with all staff or all
those in their care. However, there is some consensus that effective communication is
characterised by mutual understanding, respect, and fairness. Motivational interviewing and
other techniques that allow a young person to confront the consequences of his or her
actions can be useful when deployed in conjunction with other support and individual
Finally, in all settings young people need to be encouraged to develop agency, autonomy,
and respect for others as well as themselves. This requires commitment from staff as well as
the young people themselves. Care should be taken to make sure that young people
understand how they arrived at their position, and how to move forward.

Item Type: Monograph (Technical Report)
Uncontrolled Keywords: young offenders, crime, youth
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
Divisions: Other Departments (Central units) > Research & Enterprise
Depositing User: David Upson-Dale
Date Deposited: 10 Nov 2021 15:42
Last Modified: 09 Feb 2022 12:29
URI: https://oars.uos.ac.uk/id/eprint/2088

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