Transcript: Youth justice through the ages

CYCJ annual conference 2019.

Podcast Episode: Youth justice through the ages

Category: Criminal justice 


What follows is a transcription of the audio recording. Due to differences between spoken and written English, the transcript may contain quirks of grammar and syntax.

MD - Michelle Drumm
FD - Fiona Dyer, Interim Director at CYCJ
BA - Bruce Adamson, Scotland’s Commissioner for Children and Young People
LD - The Right Honourable Lady Dorrian, Lord Justice Clerk
TB - Doctor Tim Bateman, University of Bedfordshire
RM - Rosie Moore, Independent Care Review and co-chair of conference
JF - James Frame, co-chair of the conference

The Centre for Youth and Criminal Justice, CYCJ’s, annual conference was held on the 19th and 20th of June 2019 in Stirling, with the theme ‘Youth Justice through the Ages’. Michelle from Iriss spoke to some of the speakers on the first day of the conference. Fiona Dyer, Interim Director at CYCJ, gives an introduction.

MD Just to start Fiona, thanks for speaking to me. The theme, “Youth Justice through the Ages”.

FD Yep.

MD Why choose that?

FD Well we thought there’s such a lot happening at the moment in Scotland with the age of criminal responsibility, with the definition of a child under UNCRC guidelines, with legislation, recognising that young people who are care experienced up to age 26, so it’s a real play on words because it’s looking at the journey we’ve taken through the ages, but a play on ages and looking at what does age mean in Scotland for us today.

MD What are you aiming to achieve with the conference over the 2 days?

FD Well the conference is always well attended. It is oversubscribed and it’s a real opportunity for practitioners to network. It’s an opportunity for them to hear the most up-to-date research. It’s an opportunity to speak to ministers and hear about policy and developments within and across Scotland with all organisations. So it’s our annual 2 days where people get the opportunity to really do that, and I think you can see from the atmosphere today and the buzz that’s around, people are really taking advantage of that.

MD No absolutely.

FD Yeah.

MD Could you just give me a quick overview of the sort of speakers and things that are happening over the 2 days?

FD Yeah. Well we started off today, we had two government ministers. So we had the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Humza Yousaf, and then we had the Minister for Children and Young People, Maree Todd, who really set the scene. Then we had the Lord Justice Clerk, Lady Dorrian, talking about the Sentencing Council and the work they’re doing in relation to the sentencing of young people. Then we had Children’s Commissioner Scotland, Bruce Adamson, really emphasising the needs to take a rights based approach for young people involved in offending. We’ve also had today some lightning talks. So we’ve had the Crown Agent, David Harvie, we’ve had Keith Gardner from Community Justice Scotland, and Stuart Allardyce from Stop It Now, giving overview, and this afternoon we’re going to hear from Tim Bateman. Tomorrow we’ve got another packed day and we’re going to hear a lot more from the justice group of the Independent Care Review, giving us an overview of some of their work. We’ve got a lot more lightning talks looking at secure care. We’ve got the Chief Inspector of Prisons doing an overview of her review of the mental health needs of young people in Polmont, and we’ve got about the secure care census and the secure care standards that we’re implementing in Scotland. So another very full day.

MD Yeah, fun-packed day tomorrow.

FD Yes, and I think - and Police Scotland and Includem in the afternoon.

MD Okay. Fantastic. And what would you like people then to go away with?

FD Well I have to say, I feel really optimistic and I hope people go away feeling optimistic and really positive that they can make a difference, and that they are making a difference in Scotland with young people involved in offending. I think we do have some way to go. We’re not 100% there, but I think we’ve got a government that’s really quite progressive.

MD Mmmhmm.

FD We’re really looking at how we can incorporate the UNCRC into legislation by 2021, and really listening to the needs and the views of young people who are in the system itself. So I think I would just like people to go away just having that sort of positive optimism for the future.

MD Fantastic. Thank you Fiona.

FD Thank you.

Bruce Adamson, Scotland’s Commissioner for Children and Young People.

BA The focus of my presentation is going to be on the human rights of children in the justice system. As the Children and Young People’s Commissioner for Scotland it’s my job to promote and safeguard the rights of all of the children across Scotland in those particular concerns about children’s vulnerability of rights breaches when they engage in the Criminal Justice System.

MD There’s quite a buzz at the moment about human rights and children’s rights. What is the importance of that really?

BA Human rights and children’s rights underpin everything that we should be doing. Children have an entitlement to grow up in an environment of happiness and love and understanding, and we’ve made significant commitments to children to ensure that they get all of their rights to grow up in a healthy happy way. We’ve got access to education and contact with the Criminal Justice System has a real impact on access of other rights as well, and we know that children are, they are particularly vulnerable to other rights abuses around poverty, around things happening in their community, are more likely to come into contact with the Criminal Justice System, and therefore more of our attention needs to be put towards those children and young people to give them the support that they’re entitled to.

MD Mmmhmm.

BA It’s important that we see children - and that’s everyone up to 18 - as children in the first instance. There’s a special reason why we’ve given them a particular additional care and protection within the rights framework, recognising their state of vulnerability and development, and recognising that we owe them additional duties in terms of how we set law, policy and practice around them.

MD Mmmhmm. Have you got some key messages that you’re putting to people today?

BA Absolutely. So the key messages need to be around children being seen as children in the first instance, as rights holders, and so beginning as being full rights holders and so should be involved with participation and decision-making throughout their lives, but also entitled to protections, including protections from the use by the state of the criminal law, to address their behaviour, and so there’s real sense that we need to make sure that children are given the support and the care and protection that they need, and that the criminal law is not a good way of addressing behaviour. So it really is quite shocking that we’re in a position in Scotland where we consider that 12 is an age that criminalising children is the best way of addressing their behaviours, and that that’s being held as some kind of success ‘cause we’ve moved it from 8 to 12 recently. It’s 2 years below the international standard that the Council of Europe has.

MD So it’s 14 across other countries?

BA So the Council of Europe for a very long time has set it at 14. The United Nations has been talking about 14, at least 14, but also talking about saying that 15 or 16, that higher ages deliver better results for children and young people. So we’re 2 years below the absolute minimum required by the international system. Both the UN and the Council of Europe require 14 as the absolute minimum, and they also all point to the positive outcomes if you raise it higher than 14. So in Scotland we’re not even reaching the absolute minimum required by the worst kind of failing states.

MD Okay.

BA And actually we should be talking about a much higher age, because we know that the countries that have moved to those higher ages are getting better results for children and young people, that the use of the criminal law to address behaviours for children just doesn’t work, and of course we need to take urgent actions to make sure that children aren’t engaged in harmful behaviour, but a wealthier based approach without the criminalisation works much better. We’re quite rightly proud of the Children’s Hearing System that we have in Scotland, but the fact that we’re criminalising children through that process, even though we take a wealthy based response, we know has significant impacts on their lives.

MD Mmmhmm.

BA So one of the key messages is around the age of criminal responsibility, but more broadly than that, making sure that we take a rights based approach to all elements of our Criminal Justice System as well, and the incorporation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child is a really important aspect. It’s something the Scottish Government has committed to do within this session of parliament. So within the next year or so, by 2021, we should have brought within law, domestic law, those international commitments, 30-year-old international commitments, on the Convention on the Rights of the Child. That’s the most important thing that we can do for children and young people, because it will change the way in which laws and policies are made, to make sure it puts their rights first.

MD And what would you like people to go away considering today or doing?

BA I think I would like people to take really urgent and direct action on this age of criminal responsibility. Parliament has considered it. There’s a review happening but it’s a very long-term review. I think we need to reopen this issue and get it addressed more directly. We need, we shouldn’t be making 12 and 13-year-olds wait years to get this changed to the international minimum. So that’s something that I want urgent action on, and also engaging with the incorporation of the Convention of the Rights of the Child, and making sure that we’re very clear with government that what is required is full incorporation of the convention. We don’t want a rewriting of the laws. What we want is the full convention into law. We want it done urgently, as they’ve committed to do by 2021, and it needs to include full justiciability of those rights. We don’t want to give a weakened version, but actually something that children, young people and their families, can use to ensure that they get proper fulfilment of their rights from all of those in power.

The Right Honourable Lady Dorrian, Lord Justice Clerk.

MD How does the theme ‘Youth Justice through the Ages’ apply to your presentation today?

LD Well it’s very timely for us because we have been considering the development of a guideline on the sentencing of young people, and what we’re looking at is a completely new approach to how young people are sentenced. So the theme of the conference is one which is very much in the forefront of the minds of the council at the moment.

MD And can you say a little bit more about these guidelines that you’re producing for sentencing young people?

LD Well probably the most significant aspect is to look at what should be the purpose of sentencing when it comes to a young person, and we have obviously produced a guideline on the principles and purposes of sentencing, with no hierarchy of those purposes, but with young people we think that it’s likely that a hierarchy should be involved, and that the primary consideration for sentencing young people should be rehabilitation.

MD Okay. And why rehabilitation?

LD Because a young person is someone who has a much greater capacity for change than an older person. Their characters are not so fixed. They have less experience of the world. The opportunities which may assist with reintegration and rehabilitation have not necessarily been made available to them, and there is therefore a much greater potential for them to be rehabilitated and reintegrated as a useful law-abiding member of society.

MD Okay. If you were to give me 3 key messages from your presentation this morning, what would they be?

LD They would be bear in mind that a young person is open to influences surrounding them which may make them much less culpable than an adult, including their lack of maturity, much less culpable for their offending behaviour. In sentencing them, take into account all of their circumstances, including these factors, as well as factors relating to their personal circumstances. There are often combinations of mental health, physical health, lack of accommodation, unsuitable accommodation, a variety of other factors which have to be taken into account when dealing with young people, and above all, look at what are the best ways of finding an appropriate sentence that will assist that young person to become a useful member of society in the future.

MD Mmmhmm. And what would you like people who’ve been at the conference today to go away to either consider or do?

LD What I want them all to do is to go to our website and look out for our public consultation on the sentencing of young people. That will be coming out later this year. It’s a full public consultation on the draft guideline. We really want views from people who are working in this area. We really want responses to the issues raised in our guideline and in our consultation, because that will assist us in formulating the final guideline, which will apply to sentencing of all young people in Scotland.

MD Okay. How can people access this consultation?

LD They can just go to the Scottish Sentencing Council’s website and they’ll find it on there in due course. At the moment the consultation that’s underway is for the process guideline, and we’d welcome views on that too, but we really want views from people at this conference on the sentencing of young people guideline, the consultation for which will be on our website later this year.

MD Okay. Thank you Lady Dorrian.

Doctor Tim Bateman, University of Bedfordshire.

MD Can you just summarise or tell me what the topic of your presentation is today?

TB It’s an overview of the imprisonment of children in England and Wales, and so what I’m aiming to look at is recent trends and potentially why those have occurred, look at how children are treated in England and Wales, and in particular where we put them, because that’s significantly different from the situation in Scotland, and then some reflections on what policy suggests is happening in the future.

MD Mmmhmm. And could you give me about 3 of your key messages from today?

TB We’re locking up less kids than we used to, but we’re locking up too many. We’re locking them up in the wrong places, and when we do so we treat them appallingly, and the response to that, which is to talk, which is a very slow response on the one hand, but secondly, it’s to talk about the development of a new form of custody is misguided when we already have secure children’s homes which can do a fairly decent job if they’re properly funded.

MD Okay. So that’s the main sort of thrust of what you’re going to be speaking about just after the break?

TB Yes.

MD Can you tell me, you were saying there’s some differences obviously between the Scottish system and the English.

TB Yeah.

MD Can you just elaborate on that a little bit?

TB Okay. So I guess one of the main differences, we don’t have any children in adult custodial facilities. So we do have YOIs, but they only take 15 to 17-year-old boys. We don’t have any girls in YOIs at all. So they are all in other forms of provision. Those other 2 forms of provisions are secure children’s homes, which are equivalent to secure care in Scotland more or less I think, and secure training centres, which are prisons for younger children effectively, which are privately managed, and so all girls are in those last 2 forms of provision. So the 2 big main differences are that we have more of our kids in YOIs, but they’re children’s YOIs, not adult ones. We don’t have any girls in YOIs, and we have this third form of provision, which is secure training centres.

MD Okay, great. And people who are attending the conference today, what would you like them to go away to consider or to do?

TB Well I suppose it’s reflect on the some of the differences, because I think with good reason England and Wales is frequently regarded as very punitive by comparison with Scotland, and I think that that’s true, but there are some elements of what’s happened in England which perhaps are in advance of Scotland. So for example, the fact that we got from 2000 onwards we’d never place children in adult prisons, and so it’s I suppose my plea - and this is as much from the English side as from the Scottish side - is that we endeavour to learn more from each other than we currently do.

MD Great. Thank you Tim. That’s lovely.

TB Thank you.

Rosie Moore, Independent Care Review and co-chair of conference.

MD So you are the co-chair of the CYCJ conference on day 2 tomorrow. Tell me what the significance of this event is for you.

RM There’s 2 sides to this. It’s significant for me personally and it’s significant for me in my professional role. Personally it’s just an honour. This is a really good conference. I came last year and I spoke at it, so I was thrilled when I was asked to co-chair tomorrow. I’m really looking forward to it. Professionally I suppose it’s really significant as well as the co-chair for the love work stream at the Independent Care Review. We’re still very much listening to voices to feed into the review, to use those voices and inform us and help shape our thinking, and it’s been brilliant to hear the word love used so much today by several of the keynote speakers and the lightning talk presenters. It’s great that it’s on people’s minds and that it’s being spoken about so openly.

MD Mmmhmm.

RM Of course there’s so many other things that I’m perhaps not an expert in by any means at all. So the learning that I’m getting out of today is brilliant and I absolutely plan to take this back to the review, and to inform the workgroup that we’ve got and colleagues at the review, and think about how we can further incorporate what we’ve learned today into our work at the review.

MD And how do you feel love fits the youth justice agenda then?

RM We’re talking about children and young people that are in or around the Youth Justice System for a multitude of reasons, and as we’ve heard today, some of these young people are perhaps referred to as offenders or as criminals, or that is the wider public perception of them, when in fact some of these children and young people, they perhaps need love the most. I don’t know. It’s difficult to phrase. Some of the ways that we’re looking at changing how we treat and how we engage with young people particularly in and around the justice system need renewed, and they need looked at again with a fresh set of eyes …

MD Mmmhmm.

RM … in 2019, and looking and working with young people with love at the forefront and at the centre of our practice can help us to view young people as people and see them - somebody said today and I really liked the quote, see the human and see the person, not the crime, and that in itself is what I would call loving practice, because at the end of the day, these are young people that yes they might have done something that wasn’t okay at the time, but that does not define them as a person, and that is love. To be able to see the person and not just the crime is loving practice.

MD There seems to be a real call for inclusion over punishment as well?

RM Yeah.

MD Yeah. You think that’s in line with that as well?

RM Absolutely, and some of the speakers - and they’ve quoted other brilliant speakers and experts in this field - they say, you know, you can’t, punishing a child isn’t effective. It’s not working and it was, somebody quoted James Docherty, who’s a fantastic man, and he said that you help a child to grow and you help a child to change some of their behaviours through love, not through punishment, and I absolutely believe that, and the voices and everything that we’ve heard at the review all agree with that, and it’s about changing the way that we work sometimes and the way that we perhaps view these young people, to look at them with love and not seeing them as an individual that deserves to be punished for something, because it’s not working, and people get that at this conference and you could tell. The vibe of the conference, people are really on-board with this, and it’s exciting to see how this is going to continue to grow as a conversation and a movement for change.

MD Okay. Thank you Rosie.

RM No problem.

James Frame, co-chair of the conference.

MD Great to speak to you James. So you’re co-chair of the conference today. Tell me what the significance of this event is for you.

JF Well there’s a passion there due to the fact that I’ve been involved unfortunately with the Criminal Justice System, from being a child into the adult life. So there’s that, but also just being in the charity sector, becoming aware of organisations like CYCJ, trying to promote the welfare of young people that have unfortunately been through that trauma and more. To me, I’d like people to basically understand that humans are a bag of emotions, and to understand humans we need to understand emotions. So with that being said, even the ones that have got the most outrageous offences, I want to say to the people that are putting them in the backseat, even the devil was once an angel, in the aspect of there’s no such thing as a good or bad person. Good people can do bad things. Bad people can do good. It’s about working with them to basically overcome any barriers that they’ve put in amongst themselves or the experience that’s put that in themselves, and mutually learning the things that are representing them to come together, and basically try and make the best situation possible for the ones that are going to be coming up in the future.

MD Mmmhmm. Rosie, who also spoke to me, is co-chairing tomorrow. She was speaking about the importance of love and she’s feeling that, you know, that love is becoming increasingly part of - do you think that that’s, do you think there’s a long way to go with that or do you think it’s working?

JF So for example, the want to love is prohibited by the system itself. People want to love the people that they work with, but there’s a fear element. So I don’t know if you know this, but actually people get told don’t get emotionally involved when they work in the sector, and that is the barrier that will prevent love bringing it in.

MD So you would see that on a day-to-day basis?

JF Oh yeah, without a doubt, and it’s that fearfulness of going outwith their role, and within their role they have expectations and in the expectations, when you go into your job and you sign your job title, that gives you again limitations to be real, because there are limited things you can talk about, say, do, offer, the systems there that’ll basically prevent you from taking somebody to the beach ‘cause you need to do a risk assessment.

MD Mmmhmm.

JF So there’s wee things like that that actually cause the barriers themselves, and because the young person’s not aware of how to deal with the emotions, ‘cause they literally aren’t capable of doing that, the staff get the emotions and then they can take it personally. Now we need people to understand emotions to understand the underlying reason, rather than what’s being portrayed by the young person, who’s not articulate or got the education to actually explain what they’ve gone through.

MD Mmmhmm.

JF So workers need to have that awareness, but also different methods for different people, ‘cause there needs to be tailored support. At the moment there just seems to be a one-way track, and where actually the good things that come out of all of this are actually because of the individual worker. If all workers had that capability to put love first and go with their soul, not their role, then they would actually be able to find that they would be able to work amazingly with these young people, and but it’s not what they say, it’s how they say it, that can sometimes be perceived as, “Well why would I want to work with you, because what you’ve just said, I perceived it in a way that’s not mutually benefitting me?”

MD Mmmhmm.

JF Body language, tone of voice, whatever it may be, the perception of the young people needs to be understood of you to then teach them, but also so you can learn back from them to come together.

MD So it’s a kind of a 2-way learning process?

JF Yeah. So what I mean by you can’t help someone that doesn’t want to be helped, and when I say don’t want to, it means not ready. So for example, ages, education, life skills, playing to your strengths, all of these things will come to you naturally - touch wood - but due to your life experiences, normally they’re held back.

MD And are you involved in some work around breaking down some of these barriers?

JF So me personally, I’m on the Independent Care Review. I’m also an Advisor for the Life Changes Trust. I’m an Alumni member, which basically just means an adult care leaver that works with Who Cares Scotland, and their 3 aims are pretty much just to raise the awareness of well toxic cultures that have been embedded in society. It’s no longer a community feel. It’s more conservative for people, and when they do take a conservative approach, that can limit the confidence, the relationship, or even if there’s not a relationship, just the want from someone to actually answer you or help you.

MD Mmmhmm.

JF You’ve got to respect them for them to respect you, and that goes for the young person but also for the worker.

MD And I suppose the Care Review is giving you, a person who has experience, the opportunity to have your voice heard really and to make changes, so that’s really …?

JF That’s a crucial element, because you can’t change a system with the same thinking that created that system. So all these people that are in their role at the moment, they are thinking logistically in terms of what is possible within their role, what can they do, but as we know, if there was something that could answer that it would be done.

MD And what would you like people who were at the conference over these 2 days to go away to do or consider?

JF I would like them to reflect on a time that they’ve not got it right, and then that way they can question, “How didn’t I get that right? What made that person kick off?”, and when you start to reflect yourself you’ll be able to see it in other traits, and then you can educate people rather than belittling them, and when you do that, people want to listen to you rather than being told off. So it’s all about how you portray and act, and if there’s any reason for a young person to believe that you’re not truly there for them and being transparent, and relationships might not just work.

MD Mmmhmm. James, thank you for your time today and enjoy the rest of the conference.

JF Thank you very much.

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