Youth offending rates fall in Southampton

Fewer young people in Southampton who get in trouble with the police are re-offending and fewer are entering the criminal justice system for the first time, figures from the Ministry of Justice reveal.

The improved outcomes for young people at risk of falling foul of the law are a result of a range of innovative practice being delivered the Southampton Youth Offending Service (YOS) and its partners.

The number of young people in Southampton entering the criminal justice system for the first time has reduced by almost half in two years - from 200 in 2012/13 to 102 in 2014/15 - while custodial sentences in the same period has fallen from 27 to 13.

The percentage of young people re-offending has dropped from 48.6 percent in 2011 to 33.8 percent by 2013 (the most recent verified figures available). This is better than the national average, where 37.2 percent of young offenders re-offend.

The Southampton YOS was formed in 2012 after devolving from the Wessex Youth Offending Service, to enable the team to provide a more focused, targeted service. Figures from 2011 showed that Southampton had one of the highest rates of young people re-offending in the region. The service has since turned this around, delivering improved outcomes for young people in the city across all its key indicators. Central to this improvement has been a focus on early intervention and strong, effective partnerships.

For example, a joint decision making panel was set up in April 2014 to review young people at risk of entering the youth justice system. The panel – with representatives from the YOS, police, health services and the council’s Early Help team – meets every week to discuss cases, ensuring that each young person is taken down the most appropriate pathway and gets the right support. This model has since been adopted by Portsmouth City Council and will be rolled out in Hampshire shortly.

Superintendent James Fulton, chair of Southampton’s Safe City Partnership, said: “In the past, there was a perception that there was little choice in terms of how young offenders were dealt with, which resulted in some young people not getting the support and supervision that was right for them and their circumstances. Ultimately this resulted in some remaining in the criminal justice system when there were alternatives. Now we have a weekly multi-agency meeting which allows us to fully explore all of the options available with a strong partnership approach to reducing youth offending and improving outcomes for victims of crime.

"The great partnership approach between all agencies and the voluntary sector has led to this significant progress. Now is not a time to get complacent, but continue to work hard on alternative solutions to managing young people who have brushes with the law. Diversion and education is the best approach, but this should not stop us using the ultimate sanction of criminal convictions and custodial sentences when the offending is repeated and for the most serious offences"

‘Renewed focus’

There has been a renewed focus on the quality of the work and the types of interventions that YOS staff deliver, with the recognition that offering education, training and employment opportunities for young people is the key route out of a life of criminal behaviour.

The Southampton YOS works closely with Southampton City Council’s Skills and Regeneration Team and the Wheatsheaf Trust, a local charity that helps people with a range of issues, working directly with individuals to help them find work and training. The YOS ‘Priority Young People’ scheme identifies those at the highest risk of entering the criminal justice system or of re-offending and therefore most in need of intensive support and sets up individually tailored packages that meet their needs.

‘Positive activity’

The team also recognises the importance of other forms of positive activity in reducing offending, including engaging with arts and culture. Working closely with the John Hansard Gallery, Southampton YOS was recently awarded the ‘Artsmark’ accreditation – Arts Council England’s flagship programme to enable organisations that work with young people to strengthen and celebrate their arts and cultural provision, broadening horizons and raising aspirations. The delivery of the YOS’s Arts Award activities was cited by the national Youth Justice Board as ‘emerging best practice’. Young people achieve an Arts Award qualification which can often be the springboard to them re-starting in education, training or employment.

Cllr Satvir Kaur, Southampton City Council’s cabinet member for Communities and Leisure, said: “I’m really pleased that we have managed to turn around Southampton’s Youth Offending Service. In recent years there has been a real focus to ensure fewer first time entrants and re-offenders and partnership work has been the crux of this success. 

“Agencies have worked hard to come together on this. We know that children and young people offend for a variety of complex reasons – therefore making sharing knowledge, experience and skills, an essential part in ensuring better outcomes for young people in our city.

“Our individually tailored packages has helped in breaking the offending cycle and raise aspirations for many of our young people, and presenting young people with their Artsmark awards that they achieved through the Youth Offending Service is one of the highlights of my year.

“It’s great that the Southampton approach is being pioneered as best practice.”