Out-of-court disposal work in youth offending teams

Youth Offending Teams (YOTs) and police are doing often effective work to keep children who have committed mostly low-level offences out of the formal criminal justice system, according to a joint criminal justice inspectorate report.

Click here to view the full report, press release and infographic.

Inspectors from HM Inspectorate of Probation and HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services looked at work in seven areas of England and Wales to deal with children without going to court, using out-of-court disposals.

Publishing the report, Dame Glenys Stacey, HM Chief Inspector of Probation, said: “YOTs have the opportunity to work with many of these children. This is not a soft option for those children, as sometimes portrayed. We found YOTs often doing good and effective work to make it less likely that children would offend again, and to enable them to change their lives for the better.

“However, with some specific changes, the work could be better still and more children could benefit, as well as local communities and society as a whole.” Dame Glenys identified key areas where out-of-court disposal work might be strengthened:

  • Inspectors noted that victims were not always as engaged in the process as they should be.  Assessment and planning by YOTs sometimes gave insufficient attention to the risk of harm to victims. While those victims who engaged with YOT work on out-of-court disposals were positive about the process “not all took part” and some YOT staff were more committed than others to seeking victim engagement. Dame Glenys said this area required “renewed focus.”
  • More attention could be given to the views of the child who had offended. The report noted: “We found insufficient evidence that the child or their parent/carer had been specifically asked for and expressed their views on the causes of, and potential solutions to, their offending behaviour.”
  • Though work to divert children from entering the criminal justice system was “commonly recognised to be a success story”, Dame Glenys said, it was difficult to prove the success empirically because there was “little systematic monitoring, beyond knowing that the number of children entering the justice system for the first time had fallen considerably and consistently over many years.”

There are three types of out-of-court disposals for children who commit low-level offences – community resolutions (CR); youth cautions (YC); and youth conditional cautions (YCC). Police may issue a CR alone but in many cases they involve YOTs. YOTs are informed and involved in decisions on YC and YCC. The report noted: “Our judgements, from the cases that we inspected, indicated that short-term reoffending rates following a community resolution that involved YOT intervention were lower than those that follow a caution or conditional caution – and both were lower than reoffending following a conviction.”

Dame Glenys said:

“Preventing children from starting to offend, or their offending behaviour becoming entrenched, is good for potential victims, good for the children themselves, and saves the considerable costs incurred if further offences happen…We understand this work is a priority for the government, as it has been for previous administrations. Making sure that it is as effective as it can be, that it improves the life chances of the children involved, and that it is sustained should be good for all of us.”