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A research basis for addressing youth offending on the broadland 'stairway out of crime' programme.


Offenders who have completed prison or community-based sentences tend only to receive attention from politicians and policy makers if they re-offend notoriously thereafter. Perhaps understandably, they are an unpopular group in our society, rendering their position anomalous and uncomfortable for the communities into which they seek to reintegrate. However, 67% of adult and 78% of young prisoners in England and Wales re-offend within two years of release (Cuppleditch and Evans, 2005) and, therefore, the problem for their communities is not going away. Further, as the Social Exclusion Unit Report commented, in a comprehensive research review:

Most juvenile prisoners have experienced a range of social exclusion factors, which may have contributed to their offending behaviour (SEU, 2002: 156)

These factors most commonly included low educational attainment; disrupted family backgrounds; coming from a black or minority ethnic background; behavioural and mental health problems; and problems of alcohol and/or drug misuse.

The establishment of the 'Stairway Out of Crime' programme reflected Broadland Council's concern that ex-offenders, particularly the young, are afforded little access, after statutory involvements have ceased, to the known protective factors which may help them to choose pathways out of crime. In parallel with the Social Exclusion Unit Report's list of social exclusion factors cited above, these protective factors and associated support services notably include: education; employment; housing; mental and physical health services; drug, alcohol and personal counselling services; family support; help with benefits and debt; and programmes to engender pro-social attitudes, self-control, self-esteem and positive life skills. At the more serious end of the offending spectrum, research studies on young male sex offenders and on violent young offenders (Boswell, 2006) have confirmed that, while many of these young people do well on therapeutic and 'enhanced' regimes respectively, they tend to lose heart and direction when statutory services cease their involvement.

Employment is particularly key to establishing the economic stability and self-esteem which can constitute solid building blocks to moving out of crime. Barriers to employment are, however, found in the cited social exclusion factors such as poor basic skills, lack of educational/vocational qualifications and the ability to control use of alcohol and drugs (Fletcher, 1999). Ex-offenders also unavoidably come up against requests for criminal record disclosure which frequently disqualify them from potential employment. One UK study found that over 56% of public and 81% of private employers had anxieties about recruiting offenders (Fletcher 2003).This unpromising situation is magnified when a young offender without employment experience of any kind tries to get onto the first rung of the job ladder.

None of this, however, should serve to overlook the rights and needs of victims (Williams, 2002). Frequent political talk of the need to 're-balance' the criminal justice system in favour of victims of crime was given expression in the White Paper 'Justice for All' (Home Office et al., 2002) and in the subsequent Criminal Justice Act, 2003, which introduced new, lengthy custodial sentences for the express purpose of public protection. However, in more practical terms, the earlier Crime and Disorder Act 1998 had made provision for a strategic approach to offending at local level, which incorporated a problem-solving model of community justice and community safety to include the concerns of victims. This required effective inter- and intra-agency collaboration, coupled with mapping and profiling information. Some of this collaboration is well-developed, some is still in its early stages, some is working effectively and some not. The application process for Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs) for young people, for example, has often short-circuited the multi-agency approach advocated by the Home Office (2003) which has contributed to the limited success of this measure, according to research for the Youth Justice Board (Solanki et al, 2006). The importance of locale in the understanding of criminal dynamics has also been the focus of a growing body of research (Anselin et al., 2000). Accuracy, however, is invariably dependent upon reliable agency and inter-agency databases and a willingness to share the information they contain in the context of appropriate safeguards.

In creating this research phase of the proposed 'Stairway' initiative, Broadland District Council sought to establish a well-informed profile of offenders and offending, to fill some of the information gaps referred to above, to build on positive developments and test a new model of community justice. If such a model is to be successfully launched, adapt and grow healthily, it needs first to ask the question 'How can we build the right product?' This was the context for the Spr:ocket research study.

The Research Aims, Design and Methods

In seeking to address the question as to how to build the right product for 'Stairway' the following 3 research aims were formulated:

* To establish a profile of crime for Broadland

* To identify obstacles to reducing the levels of crime and effective ways of overcoming them

* To explore options for future development of pathways away from offending

A previous Broadland Community Safety Partnership Report (2004) had established that Broadland was an area with relatively low official crime rates, but that, in accord with the public nationally, its residents were nevertheless extremely concerned about crime. The research needed to create a forum to elicit their concerns and also to learn to what extent there would be community support for the 'Stairway' project. Thus, the identification of effective actions to address community safety would require an in-depth focus on what local support for offenders and vulnerable groups was available to be mobilised. This focus informed the research design which was formulated in 4 distinct phases, each building on data, analysis and findings of the previous phases.

Analysis of monitoring data (Phase 1) established the criteria for case study selection (Phase 2) which revealed issues for focus group discussion (Phase 3) producing framework options for Stairway (Phase 4).

The study employed a mixed method approach, drawing on a range of sources: quantitative data from Police, Probation, Courts and the Youth Offending Service; 15 in-depth case study interviews of offenders and non-offenders with a range of characteristics and incorporating a problem checklist, which allowed respondents to rate the extent of any difficulties along a 5-point scale; and focus groups with a range of stakeholders to identify relevant themes, services and actions towards preventing and reducing offending.

Profiling Offenders in Broadland

Drawing up the overall offender and offending profile was not straightforward for 3 main reasons. The first was the fact that the geographical boundaries of the organisations which provide crime data and/or services to offenders and victims differ considerably. The second was lack of fit of databases across agencies. The third was the reluctance of some to share information either with the research team or with each other.

Police, Youth Offending, Probation and Court Services were asked for key categories of data about offences, offenders, victims and disposals relating to Broadland over the period March 2005--February 2006, so that the research team could collate and analyse this information to form a holistic picture. Some of this information was relatively easily obtained; the larger proportion, however, took agencies varying degrees of time to produce, some of it not finally materialising until the very end of the study period. This process was an early object lesson in the difficulties for statutory agencies in particular of sharing confidential information, even with bona fide professionals for well-documented benevolent purposes, and of prioritising the business of extracting such information for anything external to their own very pressurised agendas. This illustrates the difficulty touched on earlier, not only for researchers but for effective inter-agency working, to inform and improve criminal justice policy and practice. The process also highlighted the need to further rationalise geographical boundaries and to establish accessible and compatible databases across relevant agencies.

The sets of data ultimately obtained broadly bore out previously recorded low serious crime rates for both young and adult offenders in Broadland. In relation to the young offenders on whom this paper focuses, all were under some form of supervision to the Youth Offending Service (4 of them on 2 such orders within the study period, hence the total figure of 59) and numbered 55 (14.5%) out of a total offending population of 383 in the year of study. Of the total number of young offenders 13 (24%) were female and 42 (76%) male. The only notable gender difference in terms of offence spread was that (in the context of small numbers), young women slightly outnumbered young men in the 'Violence to the Person' category. In terms of ethnic origin, one male offender was recorded as 'Black or Black British', and the rest as 'White'. A breakdown of offences and postcodes, however, showed that the majority of all offenders lived in 5 out of a total of 27 postcode areas and that the young offenders only lived in these areas plus one other (NR11) as shown in Table 1.

Although these offending rates were relatively low, Broadland was concerned not only to keep them that way but to try to reduce them. The postcode spreads suggested that most of these young offenders were living in proximity to older offenders, possibly in some cases within their own families, putting them at risk of further offending through interaction with those from whom they may learn the values, attitudes, techniques, and motives for criminal activity (Sutherland, 1947). The findings revealed the prominence both of criminal damage and low-level 'nuisance' crime and of crimes of violence against the person--these interestingly being the two types of crime about which the wider general public express the most concern (Kershaw, Nicholas and Walker, 2008)--with domestic violence proving to be a recurring factor, suggesting the existence of families in difficulty in certain areas. Higher rates of offending in both adults and young people tended, in fact, to be found in the more socially deprived localities. Troubled relationships, mental health and drug and alcohol abuse were also found to be frequently recorded as risk factors in the backgrounds of the young offenders. While only a very small proportion of the Broadland population came from black and minority ethnic groups, these groups were over-represented as victims of crime, particularly of violent crime. Whilst a range of apparently-relevant resources was found to be available, there were also potential challenges raised by the differing geographical boundaries, scope and location of the agencies providing them. Differences in population density, rurality and transport issues appeared from agency records and observations to have some relevance both to offending opportunities and access to resources to manage offending. These findings provided a first step towards identifying the nature of the pathways which needed to be set up to move offenders, particularly the young, away from offending.

The Ingredients of Crime in Broadland

Finding a way to reduce levels of crime requires an awareness of the background factors which may have led to the offending and what might be done about them. It is also necessary to gain an understanding of those whose background factors might place them on a typical offending trajectory but who, in fact, have not offended. A purposive sample of fifteen case studies was drawn upon to explore these background factors via semi-structured interview. The selection was based on the most prevalent offence and offender characteristics from the data provided by the Youth Offending and Probation Services on their supervised populations, and on other non-supervised offenders on whom Pre-Sentence Reports had been prepared. The sample consisted of 8 adults who had offended and one with no recorded offences; and 4 young people who had offended and 2 who were assessed as being at risk of offending but with no recorded convictions. Ten were male and 5 female. Fourteen described themselves as White British and one as White Asian. Where professionals were involved, they were also interviewed, as were family members if they and the case study respondent were agreeable.

An established problem checklist was used with the case studies to screen for experiences and needs which have been shown in past research often to feature in the life histories of offenders. This checklist had been extensively piloted, developed and employed in three previous studies grounded in the experiences and concerns of both adult and young offenders, and had also been piloted and appropriately amended at the commencement of the Spr:ocket study. (Boswell, Wedge and Price, 2003, 2004; Boswell, 2006) Respondents also answered questions about their earlier lives and the reasons they had or had not committed offences. The resulting lists revealed 3 clusters of problems for all respondents: education/employment/financial; physical health/alcohol/emotional and mental health with some self-destructive tendencies; neglect/physical abuse/emotional abuse/bullying. The difference for the 3 who had not offended did not lie in their having fewer problems, but in possessing a strong network of support systems to help them survive without resorting to crime. In the case of the young people in the sample, this is illustrated by the stories of Alec, aged 14, who had offended and Adam, aged 15, who had not. (All names are pseudonyms).

Along with most of the adult case study respondents, the 6 young people rated current services as generally helpful, with the exception of education and employment, which remained key areas of difficulty for them especially. There was some confidence from youth offending professionals we interviewed that they could provide what was needed to reduce the risk of offending, even though they did not generally rate the response of their supervisees to supervision very highly. Where young people referred themselves to services, and were offered a service, this tended to have a positive effect on their motivation to avoid re-offending, although the opposite appeared to be the effect if services were not forthcoming. The case studies illustrated the importance of informal, as well as formal support and there was a clear need for long-term 'bridging' of services through mentoring, particularly if the informal support of family or friends was not available. Alcohol use appeared as a significant feature in at least half of both adult and young offender case studies, and yet alcohol services in Broadland did not appear to be as accessible to offenders as drugs services. Overall, loss (including bereavement in 75% of cases), problematic emotional and mental health, education and employment histories were common in all offenders' pathways. Both adult and young non-offenders had secured protective factors such as educational and personal pro-social support, whereas offenders coming to the end of supervised community sentences which had afforded them support they had not experienced previously, did not know where such support would come from in the future.

Framing the Stairway Project

Eight focus groups representing a range of community members and service providers were employed in two stages. At the first stage, they were invited to consider and suggest areas for action in response to the clusters of problems identified in the case studies, as listed in the previous section--education/employment/financial; physical health/alcohol/emotional and mental health with some self-destructive tendencies; neglect/physical abuse/emotional abuse/bullying. Analysis of the focus group discussions enabled the researchers, with the groups' agreement, to identify five broad themes which the 'Stairway' project needed to encompass:

1. Timely support for significant loss, bullying and abuse

2. Fragility of support systems and ongoing relationships

3. Engagement with education/access to work

4. Organisational constraints: targets encouraging fragmentation; information-sharing; and service thresholds.

5. Community ownership, empowerment and community justice.

At the second stage, the focus groups were asked to consider how these themes could be addressed by 'Stairway'. Following analysis of their discussions, the researchers drew together three possible frameworks for 'Stairway' which could be treated as discrete or complementary:

* A One-Stop Shop approach would prioritise timely access to appropriate services by tackling difficulties before the risk of disengagement and offending behaviour develop. It would use front-line people, outreach services and the internet to 'bridge' those with difficulties into community support. Key school and community policies on bullying and harassment, for example, could thereby be more strongly enforced and audited.

* A Social Enterprise approach would promote links between groups with valuable resources and skills to share, so as to create novel and more flexible opportunities for action and dialogue between previously unconnected groups and individuals. This is an approach which mobilises and develops the interests and skills of individuals who have previously only known failure, and raises their self-respect through achievement, which also contributes positively to the community. It can, for example, generate more diverse opportunities to secure income and constructive employment for those who are vulnerable by reason of age, gender, race or disability.

* A Community Justice approach would engage and mobilise communities to play a more active part in generating local responses to prevention and to offending and its punishment. In terms of prevention it could, for example, include parenting programmes; in terms of punishment, community-relevant reparation could be developed. It would aim to increase levels of community participation in target-setting for crime management and restorative justice programmes incorporating offenders, victims and community.

Implementing the Stairway Project

Broadland Council is now in the process of implementing the recommendations of the Spr:ocket report. In examining the key findings against its available resource allocation, it found that within the prevailing Prolific and Priority Offender Strategy (deriving from the Crime and Disorder Act, 1998) the emphasis had been on resourcing what happened after offences had been committed--i.e. in the 'Catch and Convict' and 'Rehabilitate and Resettle' categories rather than in the 'Prevent and Deter' category, which has particular relevance for the young. As a consequence, elements of all 3 suggested 'Stairway' frameworks are now being employed, as appropriate, to take action according to the 5 broad themes identified for 'Stairway' through the focus group discussions:

1. Timely support for significant loss, bullying and abuse. A wide range of programmes in junior and senior schools has been commissioned to address and provide timely support for pressing issues such as bereavement, loss, abuse, neglect, domestic violence, bullying (including racism), low self-esteem and social isolation, (all of which, if ignored in childhood and adolescence, can lead to significant problems as an adult, including offending). In preventive terms, proactive programmes on respectful relationships, responsible citizenship and the consequences of becoming involved in crime have also been set up, and the services of an organisation which offers a one-stop-shop and a one-to-one counselling service have been commissioned.

2. Fragility of support systems and ongoing relationships. Through its own training organisation, Broadland is promoting community information, advice and encouragement through the delivery of a project for parents/carers and young people which provides support and guidance, and knowledge about community networks, enabling parents better to mentor and support their children and ultimately gain new skills which could lead to volunteering or employment.

3. Engagement with education/access to work. A sustainable scheme of apprenticeship for school-leavers within the construction industry has been set up, employing some young ex-offenders and others who might otherwise have been at risk of offending.

4. Organisational constraints: targets encouraging fragmentation; information-sharing; and service thresholds. Through the existing County Children and Young People Plan, work with the other 7 District Councils and the County Council, Children's Services and other relevant service-providers is under way to address these obstacles, as well as boundary and transport problems. A sustainable range of programmes that are linked to school curricula and performance targets is also being implemented across the county.

5. Community ownership, empowerment and community justice. Community justice projects are being set up, including: a neighbourhood charter; a Probation mentoring project; a training course for community members to become mentors in their own communities; partnership work with the Drug and Alcohol Action Team; a restorative justice training programme; and a panel to represent the voices of young people.

Clearly it will take time for these initiatives to become established and for evaluations to show the extent of their effectiveness. Two developments for which the researchers have evidence, however, are worth reporting here. Linked to the first set of actions described above, an innovative project using 'magic' to promote respectful relationships and responsible citizenship in 9-11 year olds, is receiving excellent teacher and student reviews, to the extent that some schools have already agreed to mainstream it from their own budgets next year. In relation to the third set of actions, the research team has recently attended the launch of an apprenticeship scheme, in which young, previously unemployed and low-achieving offenders and those who may have been at risk of offending, have been trained in building skills and are about to commence the renovation of a large house and gardens for the future use of young people in Broadland. Informal discussions with the young apprentices suggest that this scheme has furnished them not only with new skills, but with both a confidence and an opportunity they never expected to have, and that they believe it has indeed provided them with a 'stairway out of crime'.


The 'Stairway' endeavour has begun to offer a pathway to community justice which is based on a firm foundation of research evidence. It shows how theory and practice can be integrated by looking first at the characteristics of offending and offenders in a particular locality and then gaining views from the widest range of interested parties to arrive at a realistic strategy and a programme of action to address it. In this case, the strategy and its newly-developing programme seek to prioritise prevention by concentrating on the needs of the young before offending begins or becomes entrenched. Against a national context, in which responsibility for the management of crime has shifted perceptibly from government to governance, a local council has initiated an integrated model of problem-solving which could be mobilised to meet the needs of most other constituencies engaged in the exercise of crime reduction.

Case study 1

Alec, aged 14, was being supervised by the Youth Offending Team (YOT) on a 6-month Referral Order for 7 offences including assault, over a 4-month period. His contact with the YOT was mainly an hour, once a fortnight, with a substance misuse worker, focussing on educating Alec about drugs and alcohol. Meanwhile, however, Alec was out of school for nearly a year. His mother said he was diagnosed with two mental health conditions and had been bullied and beaten at school as a result. The YOT case manager had not pursued Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) because Alec had said he 'didn't want to talk about his mental health' and so 'nobody really knows what the problem is'.

In contrast to this view the CAMHS professional who had assessed Alec thought that Alec was suffering from both Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (having witnessed domestic violence at a young age, with his father now in prison for this), and lack of parental monitoring of his behaviour, all compounded by illicit drug use. Despite this complex picture of interrelated and dynamic issues, the CAMHS professional said 'He is not a priority for us', and therefore there were no resources to reach beyond formal outpatient appointments at a CAMHS building in the city, appointments which were rarely taken up by Alec or his family, who lived in a rural area some 12 miles away. The CAMHS professional thought a closer working relationship between the CAMHS team and the YOT would be helpful for Alec but did not have the time to develop this.

Lack of access to the routine and opportunity of education services compounded Alec's problematic behaviour. There was recognition that Alec needed intensive engagement to facilitate change, and therefore reduce the risk of re-offending, but each of the organisations seemed precluded from offering this, either by time limits imposed on interventions, or through low priority being given to 'outreach' work. Placing a greater emphasis on linking work and developing a better, shared, understanding of Alec's difficulties might have enabled these services to work together to provide a more consistent and integrated response. In the meantime, no future source of support was apparent.

Case study 2

Adam, a non-offender aged 15, had also experienced family disruption. His parents separated when he was 9 years old. He described a very difficult few months preceding this, when his parents were arguing and shouting. He felt that he was somehow to blame and became quite depressed. His mother said that his mood swings, at that time, were very severe. Adam still sees his father every day, as he lives nearby, but no longer sees his paternal grandparents whom he misses. He commented that through his early childhood, which was happy and settled, he was 'quiet and shy', but was not bullied at school.

Adam explained that he went to his mother for help in dealing with the feelings he was experiencing following his parents' separation. She had been concerned that Adam could have '... gone down the wrong path' at that time. Adam says that if he has a problem he knows he can go to his mum, and discussing it makes it better; whereas he found his conversations with friends more superficial. His mother found that staff at the school were helpful during the marriage split, certain teachers in particular. Adam has also been to the Connexions service at the school, for advice about work. His teacher confirms that he avails himself of the support offered by the school. He describes himself as having much more self-confidence now; he enjoys High School and has good friendships and plans to study for 'A' levels.

The emotional upset of his parents' separation and consequent effect on Adam's mental health could, in his mother's view, have led to his becoming involved in anti-social and offending behaviour. Adam, however, experienced a settled early childhood, not being abused or neglected and he did not suffer bullying at school. Despite the trauma of his parents' split, they appear to have taken the continuation of their parental responsibility seriously. Adam was able to talk to his mother about how he was feeling, indicating closeness and trust. Had this not been the case, his mother would have gone to her doctor for advice in the first instance but, significantly, neither she nor Adam were aware of any services offering support to families, because they had not needed them. Adam's mother thinks the lack of a local community centre where young people can meet means that some young people get into the wrong company due to a lack of things to do.

End Note

This article derives substantially from a paper given to the Australian Institute of Criminology Conference: Young People, Crime and Community Safety, Melbourne, 25th February 2008.


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Gwyneth Boswell, Visiting Professor, Fiona Poland, Senior Lecturer, Anne Killett, Lecturer and John Cross, Practitioner-Researcher (seconded from Norfolk Youth Offending Service), School of Allied Health Professions, University of East Anglia
Table 1: Post codes and principal offence types of Young Offenders
under supervision during the study period (2005-6)

AREA Criminal Violence to Theft/ Driving- (n=55)
 Damage the Person Other related

NR6 5 5 1 1 12
NR7 5 4 1 2 12
NR8 4 1 8 1 14
NR10 2 1 2 2 7
NR11 1 1 1 1 4
NR13 3 4 3 -- 10
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Author:Boswell, Gwyneth; Poland, Fiona; Killett, Anne; Cross, John
Publication:British Journal of Community Justice
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jun 22, 2009
Previous Article:Risk, youth and moving on.
Next Article:Community justice files 20.

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