The case for youth courts
by Ben Rogers
In selecting these, we have identified policies that are:
- Significant ideas that would make a substantial contribution to tackling London’s challenges;
- Practical – could be introduced over the next four years, before the next election;
- Cost-neutral – could be introduced without significant increased spending
- Innovative – new ideas that have yet to be widely proposed;
- Broadly devolutionary – in keeping with our belief that Parliament should continue to devolve more responsibility to the GLA and downwards to local government.
PROPOSAL #10 - LONDON NEEDS YOUTH COURTS - COURTS RUN BY YOUNG PEOPLE - TO ADDRESS GANG AND OTHER YOUTH CRIME
Crime in London is falling – including violent crime committed by young people. Nevertheless, as last summer’s riots illustrated graphically, too many young people are caught up in crime or fall victim to it – the evidence suggests that around three quarters of people involved in the riots were under 25 and contrary to popular perceptions, young people are more likely than older people to be victims of crime and anti-social behavior. Finally, youth re-offending rates are high with almost a third of offenders under 18 going on to offend again within a year.
Against this background, London needs to take a more radical approach to its youth justice system, and experiment with teen or youth courts – courts run by young people for young people. Youth courts are now a well-established part of the American justice system. In 1994 there were only 78 youth court programmes in the US but by 2010 there were over a thousand. These courts come in a variety of forms, with some sponsored by schools, but most are supported by state justice systems, with police and courts referring young offenders to them. The youth courts are empowered to impose a range of sanctions, from written apologies, through counseling and tutoring, to community payback. Their record appears impressive.
There are number of reasons for thinking youth courts might translate well to London. First and foremost, there is evidence to suggest that young offenders tend to view youth courts with a great deal more respect than they do adult courts – perhaps not surprising when we know that for all of their protestations of non-conformism young people are more susceptible than older people to peer pressure (hence the power of ‘gang culture’).
Youth courts can also help engage young people in the running of the criminal justice system. Indeed many of the US courts, like the Red Hook youth court in New York, have an history of engaging more ‘hard to reach’ groups, including offenders themselves, in the running of the courts.
Finally, youth courts, at least as they are run in the US, are restorative in approach. There is now very strong evidence that such approaches to criminal justice are more effective across a range of measures – including satisfaction of victims and witnesses and reducing re-offending – than more conventional approaches.
Given that around 60 per cent of those involved in last summer’s riots thought they would happen again within 3 years, there is a strong case for exploring ways of developing a more widely respected and effective court system for young people. Youth courts could be part of the answer.