Effects of Custodial Sentences on Young Offenders

What are the implications for young offenders entering the custodial setting? And why do these implications occur?


Under Section 83 of the Youth Criminal Justice Act it outlines the purpose of custody and supervision system. One key purpose is to carry out sentences imposed by the court, this must be done through a safe, fair and humane procedure involving the custodial setting and supervision of the young person. Additionally, they must also assist the young person to rehabilitate and reintegrate in to the community as law-abiding citizens (Bell, 2002). Section 83 also outlines the limitations of how the sentence is carried out, such limitations are that the least restrictive measures consist throughout the sentence, also that the young persons sentenced retain the rights of other young persons, unless the rights that are necessarily removed or restricted as a consequence of a sentence under any Act.

January 2015, for the first time the number of children in custody was below 1000 – with a population of 981. These numbers have been dropping slowly over the past decade, which is desired, but many challenges are still seen throughout the custodial setting (Bradshaw, 2016). According to the Ministry of Justice statistics (2012), 73% of those under 18 go on to reoffend within a year of being released from custody (Ministry of Justice, 2012). This suggests custody has been failing to rehabilitate young offenders effectively, as these stubbornly high re-offending statistics show. This is troubling, as young offenders are considered one of society’s most vulnerable group (Vostanis and Williams, 2008).

Vulnerable young offenders may be at risk of serious and long-term problems because the youth justice system is failing to support them (The New Law Journal, 2003). The Mental Health Foundation found prevalence rates for mental health problems in young offenders is three times higher than the general population (Clark and Rooprai, 2012). Furthermore, over 50% of young offenders appeared to have borderline or mild learning difficulties (Harrington and Bailey, 2005). The purpose of custody is to provide a punitive punishment, but if the young person’s rehabilitation loses focus this could lead to further issues. Chitsabesan et al. (2006) highlights the additional unmet needs for young offenders rests at 36%.

Young offenders often come from disadvantaged backgrounds, where they are often not settled or integrated (Goldson, 2012). Their environments often is what led them to offend (Burke, 2016). Therefore, custody in a sense has further targets than rehabilitating, as rehabilitation back to the previous state may not be effective. Custody should provide ‘window of opportunities’ where young offenders can be open to interventions to progress further in their desistence (Beyond Youth Custody, 2015). A study in Northern Irish justice, found children from deprived areas, found crime inescapable. One young person expressed the paradoxical nature of custody, with a welcoming of the opportunity to become free from drugs, whereas on one hand, he has anxieties about whether he would have a place to live on release and whether he would be able to sustain abstinence in the community (McAlister & Carr, 2014).

Ineffective management within the custodial setting is arguably leading to more long term serious problems, such as further re-offending, socio-economical and mental health, this is why custodial practice is crucial. Custody for young offenders even though a punishment, should attempt supporting them towards achievements equal to their non-offending peers. My first chapter will analyse the implication of being placed in custody. Such as what custody provides to young offenders, and what implications entering custody may occur to them while inside the custodial setting. My second chapter will look into the transition process back into the community, this transition is vital in terms of resettling the young offender back to the community. Here multi-agency will be reviewed how it co-operates with Local Authorities, how effective are they in supporting the young offender within the transition. My final chapter, will study how young offenders’ lives have been effected post-custody. Re-offending rates are high, but this chapter will further look into how leaving custody has effected their employment prospects, as young offenders often come from disadvantaged backgrounds and it is possible custody may complicate these disadvantages further. Moreover, I will discuss has custody potentially worsened or caused mental illness, as significant number of young offenders enter custody with a mental illness or learning disability.

Chapter One. Custody.

Children and young people who are above the age of responsibility (10 years old) and below 18 years of age are not sent to prison, instead they will be sent to alternative custodial settings chosen to fit their individual needs by the Youth Justice Board (YJB). The three establishments within the secure estate where they may be sent are: Secure Children’s Homes (SCH), Secure Training Centre’s (STC) and Young Offender Institutions (YOI). Where young offenders will get sent depends on their age, sex, individual needs and where they live. Under section 83 of the Youth Criminal Justice Act 2003, the purpose of the custody and supervision system to impose a safe, fair and humane punishment while assisting them to rehabilitate and reintegrate into the community (Bell, 2002). Each year, approximately 6,500 children and young people traverse through young offender institutes, secure training homes and secure training centres, a strong majority are serving detention and training orders (Goldson, 2013). The central government spent £800 million in 2009-10 in an attempt to deal with youth crime, 10% was spent on dealing trying to prevent offending behaviour, whereas £300 million was spent on custody, which is used in 3% of offences (HOC, 2013).

Secure Children’s Homes (SCH) are mainly  local authority run institutes aimed at young offenders aged 10-14 and those who may have been in care or have mental health problems. A SCH ranges between 6-40 beds, while having the highest staff to child ratio in the children’s secure estate, with one member staff for every two children and six members of staff for every eight.  Furthermore, the BBC found that lack of spaces within children homes means local authorities are struggling to house some of the most in need children, for example, those who are a danger to themselves and others (BBC, 2015).  Additionally, these facilities hold a mix of boys and girls. The average cost to hold an offender here costs an average of £215,000.

SCH’s arguably provide the best support for more vulnerable children; managers are qualified social workers and staff tend to have more child care qualifications, SCH ‘appear to fulfil an essential function’ in providing to the offenders needs (House of Commons Justice Committee, 2013; Goldson, 2002). Since SCH’s may provide the best support for the most vulnerable, not gaining a place may lead to detrimental effects, such as offenders not receiving valuable support needed for them to rehabilitate and protecting vulnerable offender from harm. Studies have shown over a third of younger offenders need mental help support (Chitsabesan, 2006). There is a potential of serious psychological and social damage being inflicted on children if placements are not managed properly (Bullock and Little 1991). Qualitative research has suggested that a vast number of senior and middle managers have “a lack of confidence in the ability of SCH providers to provide high quality, purposeful, outcome focused services with the right individual input and treatment/therapeutic input” (Held, 2006). Therefore, young offenders entering SCH’s may gain the support they need.

Secure training centres (STC) are privately owned custodial institutions for young offenders which hold any offender up to the age of 17. STC’s encompass 50 and 80 young people, while splitting them into units. The staff ratio in STCs ranges between two staff to five children and three staff to eight children. Young people in secure training centres should get up to 30 hours of education and training every week, following a school day timetable. The average cost of placing a child in a STC for a year is £160,000.

Medway secure training centre owned by G4S has been heavily criticized for locking young offenders in rooms without TV, radio, magazines or books (Willow, 2015), which is against their rights, due to the Human Rights Act 1998. Furthermore, between 2008 and 2012, there had been 332 separate complaints regarding restraint, with 47 children requiring hospital treatment. STCs have come across much scrutiny due to their overuse of restraint (Willow & Zephaniah, 2015). This could be lead mental health issues developing (Great Britain: Parliament: Joint Committee on Human Rights, 2008).

Whereas, Ofsted have stated that education within STC’s is “generally good” as young offenders are gaining numeracy and literacy qualifications. On the other hand, Ministry of Justice reported only a “few establishments” provided opportunities to gain “meaningful and substantial” qualifications (Ministry of Justice, 2011). This may lead to higher re-offending rates because education helps with the transition of resettlement (Stephenson et al 2010).

Young Offender institutes (YOI) hold 15 to 21-year-olds, those under 18 are held in different buildings from those over 18. YOI’s size varies from some holding around 60 people while others house more than 400. Young people should receive up to 25 hours of education, skills and other activities every week, which include programs looking at improving their behaviour. YOI’s have the lowest staff to child ratio in the children’s secure estate, from just three to six staff to between 40 and 60 children on the wings. The average cost of placing a child in a prison for a year is £60,000. Additionally, 52% of YOI offenders reported they had been or were in local authority care (Redmond, 2015). Moreover, ‘only one of the nine state funded young offenders’ institutions in England provides the statutory 12 hours of education each week’ (Sellgren, 2013). This is an issue as 70% of young offenders in custody are in YOI’s (MOJ, 2014).

It has been suggested that there is a lack of standardized language assessment within YOI’s, research found 73% of offenders scoring below the appropriate level for their age on grammatical competency (Chitsabesan, 2006). Moreover, 27% younger offenders, especially those aged 16 and over (HM Inspectorate of Prisons, 2011) were from care homes and they may have little experience with ETE environments and therefore possess difficulty with numeracy and literacy (YJB, 2006).  The attitude of ‘masculine bravado’ with resistance to formalized education often leads to the teacher’s authority being challenged (Barry and McNeill, 2009). Therefore, perhaps making it difficult to read. Chris Gayling (2013), then sectary of state justice, said “around half 15-17 year olds entering the custody had the literacy or numeracy levels which would be expected of children in the last years of primary school” (Easton and Piper, 2016). Therefore getting them to engage with ETE may be difficult.  This indicates educational support within YOI’s may not be to the adequate standard and require attention towards supporting care-leavers.

Literature reviews of youth corrections suggests that detention could have profoundly negative impacts on young people’s mental and physical well-being, research found that for one-third of incarcerated youth diagnosed with depression, the onset of the depression occurred after they began their incarceration (Holman & Ziedenberg, 2011). Researchers found that over 40% youths in the YJ system have a learning disability, and will find significant challenges in complying with a traditional education system (Holman and Ziedenberg, 2011).  Young males aged 16-20 are 18 times more likely to commit suicide (Fazell & Baillageon, 2011). Furthermore Meltzer and Britain (1999) found 20% of male prisoners attempted to commit suicide in custody between the ages of 16-20. Self-harm and suicides are prevalent in the first month of custody (Rogers, Harvey and Law, 2015). It may be difficult to rehabilitate the young offender as custody may expose them to harmful experiences (Steinber, Chui and Little, 2004)

The proportion of young offenders entering the secure estate has fallen 63% between 2005-06 and 2014-2015 (Redmond, 2015). Between April 2005 and 2006 the population of ‘white’ children and young people decreased from 1945 to 589, in regards to the secure estate. Whereas, BME saw a small decrease from 304 to 215 (Easton and Piper, 2016). In relation to YOI’s the proportion of boys detained who identified as being from a black and minority ethnic background was 42% in 2014–15, up 21% from 2001-2002. Whereas the proportion of Muslim boys held, had risen from 16% in 2010–11 to 21% in 2014–15. (Redmond, 2015). This raises the question of the fairness of pre-court and court processes. Furthermore, Wilson’s (2003) ethnographic research found that BME groups find the staff ‘were universally perceived to be able to “get away with more” than the police in the community’ regarding racist behaviour. Showing potential problems with institutional racism, which will lead to major issues, such as forming effective relationships with practitioners to help with rehabilitation. On the other hand, this research used a small sample size, specific age group and this study was over a decade ago, therefore it may not reflect the whole secure estate as a whole currently.

In relation to STC’s the proportion of children who identified as being from a black or other minority ethnic background was 35%, down from 44% in 2012–13. Correlatively the proportion of boys identifying as Muslim had almost halved in recent years: from 21% in 2012–13 to 12% in 2014–15 (Redmond, 2015). Diversity of different cultures can sometimes allow a language barrier being formed, this also makes it difficult to form an effective intervention plan with young people and families (Dhooper and Moore, 2000).

The population of young female offenders in the UK from 2000/01 to 2002/03 constantly just under 50,000 individuals a year. This increased slightly in 2003/04 to 52,101 before increasing by approximately 12% to 58,234 in 2004/05 (YJB, 2009). The population of girls was 16% in the youth justice system (YJB, 2015). Within the youth justice system there is evidence that girls and women are treated the same and also there is a tendency to treat all girls the same due to their small population in the system (Bloom, 2005). Evidence suggests girls appear to be involved in offending for shorter periods and commit fewer offences than boys, while on the whole commit less serious offences (Arnull, 2005). This shows that girls may need a different intervention plan compared to boys, due to partaking in different variation of crimes and possessing different desistence trends.

Chapter 2. The Transition.

Resettlement is effectively reintegrating a young person back into the community, while meeting the emotional, practical, health and other needs of the young person, this is key in bringing about desistance from crime (Goldson, 2013). The transition back to the community is key to ensuring the young person settles back in to the community (Robinson, 2014). Depending on the nature of the crime, the planning for resettlement begins often at the pre-court stage, while continuing through custody and while resettling in to the community. The transition back in to the community requires multiple agencies working together, providing support towards the needs of the young person (Pycroft & Gough, 2010). A key issue with resettlement faces is that many young people are not settled or integrated within the community prior to custody (Goldson, 2013).

The YJB’s National Standard for Youth Justice Service set out specific guidelines regarding the transition back to the community, despite these guidelines supervision is not always a stable transition (National Audit Office, 2004). An inspection by the HMI probation (2012) found that decisions to transfer are often made without assessment and key elements of transfer such as providing comprehensive information and three way meeting were not occurring enough.  HMIP (2011) surveyed 770 young men in nine different YOIs, this a strong sample size, found training plans were complete but there was little evidence of up-to-date profiling the needs. These failing may cause detrimental effects in providing the support required for effective resettlement, as resettlement factors may change quickly.

Prior to release, an assessment is required to be taken, ASSET will often be used, while the Risk of Serious Harm form (ROSH), may be triggered if the ASSET form indicates the young person can be a risk to others (Baker and Sutherland, 2009). These risk factors are identified by prior factors that may shape the onset, frequency, persistence or duration of offending (Farrington, 2002). Information is crucial for risk assessment, as a review of 35 major child abuse inquires highlighted that flawed inter-agency communication was a key factor to these failings (Reder et al, 1993). Therefore using assessment tool such as ASSET provides a chance for consistency and an opportunity to compare and analyse information in a shared format (Baker and Kelly, 2011). It may be difficult to assess a young person, as young people have little criminal history, additionally throughout the adolescence of young people pattern of behaviour can change rapidly, meaning original plans often require consistent updating, if this is done ineffectively it may lead to further offending (Ministry Of Justice, 2007). On the other hand Griffin (2006) suggests that the relationship between age, crime and desistence is ‘one of the surest things in all of criminology’, suggesting the older they get the higher desistence from crime. Therefore, making it difficult to assess the effects of custody.

ASSET has been criticized for creating a ‘tick box’ culture, this has created a reductionist approach for assessing and forming interventions to help reduce crime, which may lead to a heavy emphasis on negative indicators of offending, which may lead to an objectionable predisposed view of the young person. This makes it difficult to integrate the assessment undertaken under ASSET with the focus on children’s needs under the common assessment framework (Youth Justice Board, 2006). ASSET is not supposed to be used as an inflexible assessment or checklist, still there is an indication that some practitioners use it in this sense, most recognise this is an ineffective method (Robert et al, 2001). Furthermore, an issue with ASSET is the practitioner can only use the information they are able to gain, interviewing young offenders and parents provides an opportunity of certain parties to be dishonest (Maschi, Bradley and Ward, 2009). ASSET may lead to poor resettlement, due to its reductionist use of assessment.

The YJB has replaced ASSET with ASSET plus, as they aim to provide a more holistic approach, replacing the reliance of a ‘tick box’ culture to more of comment based assessment made by practitioners (Baker, 2014). Moreover, desistence has become a more centralised theme within ASSET plus, desistance within ASSET plus is about preventing offending behaviour by encouraging a strengths-based work-model which helps young people explore and develop their abilities, interests, and personal goals (McNeill and Weaver, 2010). Assessing the effectiveness of ASSET plus is difficult at the moment, as it has been released recently and minimal research has been done in this field.

The purpose of Multi-agency in youth justice practice is to effectively reduce the risk of offending and re-offending by different organizations co-operating with each other (Baker and Sutherland, 2009). These organizations often will need to share information between each other, effective communication of information is vital for multi-agency to be applied productively. Databases containing information about children and young people are used to enable more efficient sharing of information (Matters, 2004). Greater collaboration between agencies is a key policy priority (Department of health, 2001). Even with this knowledge, multi-agency has seen catastrophic outcomes with Baby P, where sharing information was substandard, eventually leading to a baby’s death,  showing “good systems of communication and information sharing are central” for multi-agency to perform decisively (Sloper, 2004). On the other hand, this case involved an infant rather than young people, therefore it may not be applicable. This does however show weakness in communication could lead to negative outcomes.

Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements (MAPPA) is a set of agencies established of Police, Local Authorities and prison services, providing assistance in deciding the most effective approach for violent young offenders transiting outside of custody. A key purpose of MAPPA is to protect the public from serious harm from sexual and violent offenders. MAPPA is not a single body but ‘a mechanism through which agencies can better discharge their statutory responsibilities (Ministry of Justice, 2007). Furthermore evidence reviews have shown weak co-operation between YOT’s and MAPPA, which may been caused by the lack of training, as YOTs has had an inconsistent understanding of MAPPA (Sutherland, & Jones, 2008). The purpose of MAPPA is unclear because of the quasi legal nature of MAPPA, since it’s unclear if they add to the risk management of young people given that YOT’s are already a multi-agency organization (Pycroft & Gough, 2010).

One strong influence for desistence from crime is Education, Training and Employment (ETE) (YJB, 2006). The Youth Justice Board works with their partners to help with availability of Education, Training and Employment for young offenders transitioning to the community (YJB, 2008).  Despite this, only 69% children currently under youth justice supervision are in full-time education, training or employment, whereas the goal for this by the government was 90% (Pycroft and Gough 2010). Furthermore, evidence shows involving the young person in the resettlement plan will increase the likely hood of them engaging in ETE, despite this, inspections showed some young people in YOIs did not have a copy of their plan, providing the plan to them will help empower them (Ravencroft & Hobb, 2017). This may lead to young offenders missing out on ETE, due to a lack of empowerment to partake in ETE. On the other hand, arguably this goal was set unrealistically high, as many younger offenders (especially those aged 16) were from care homes and they may have little experience of this environment, therefore engaging in ETE may be difficult for them (Kassem, Murphy and Taylor, 2010).

Within many cases, it has been difficult to provide education because of a lack in the synchronization between the sentences and the courses, often offenders are leaving custody before receiving any qualifications (YJB, 2006). Since the resettlement plan would have planned the young person in gaining a qualification within custody, failing to achieve one could squander resettlement plans (Pycrofy & Gough, 2010), therefore last minute provisions often will be made. Providing courses tailored for young offenders that coincide with the sentence could provide more effective resettlement. Involving parents or careers of the young person’s education is found to be a robust factor in strengthening attachment to school and learning (Bynner, 2001). Therefore, agencies working with parents may provide an effective mean of resettlement. While involving parents/careers in the education of young people, allows a focus on two key elements of effective practice simultaneously, education and family.

Child and Adolescent Mental Health (CAHMS) services provide a mental health assessment for young offenders anywhere in the secure estate. CAMHS provide a specialist young people’s mental health service in relation to a full spectrum of mental health issues, from low-level concerns about self-esteem and attachment to more severe mental health needs such as psychosis. In all of the local authorities, CAMHS have specialists dedicated to work with local authorities. Depending on the mental health assessment, it will influence the young offenders’ transition. A lack of availability of appropriate accommodation for offenders with mental health difficulties, particularly those with high-level needs, will be a barrier (Lamont et al., 2009).

Accommodation arguably is a major factor in preventing offending, as it helps maintain school attendance and employment, as these are crucial risk factors for young people (Andrew, 2004). Statistics shows no change in providing accommodation to young offenders, as the proportion of young people gaining accommodations rest at a high 94%, showing accommodation has been laudable, especially taking into account the housing crisis occurring (Pycroft & Gough, 2010). However, 2014/15 HMIP reports of YOIs where “some” children did not know where they were going to be living until 48 hours before their release (Ravenscroft & Hobbs, 2016), this may be due to poor supervision of resettlement cases. YOI’s and STCs have reported difficulty in finding suitable accommodation for the offenders, difficulties in securing accommodation have been linked with a lack of local authority accommodation, and difficulties surrounding children who have committed certain types of crimes, such as sexual offences, or who have a negative reputation from previous placements (Ravencroft & Hobbs, 2016) .

Chapter 3. Post-Custody.

Around 35,000 juvenile offenders were cautioned, convicted or released from custody between July 2014 and June 2015 and approximately 13,000 of them reoffended. This displays a reoffending rate of 38.0% within a year, which has seen a small increase in the previous 12 months and an increase of 4.4 percentage points since 2004 (MOJ, 2017). To reduce costs and improve performances through strategic managements is a key goal for the government (Smith, 2012), this shows they are continuously failing.

In 2012/13 the overall (binary) re-offending rate for young people was 36.1%, with an average of 1.08 re-offences per offender and 2.99 re-offences per re-offender, whereas, the number of young people with re-offences has gone down every year since 2007/08, especially those with no previous offences and those receiving out of court disposals. Therefore, the cohort may be comprised of young people whose characteristics mean that they are more likely to re-offend. This is displayed in the higher average number of previous offences for each young person, which was 1.74 in 2007/08 and 2.57 in 2012/13 (YJB, 2014). Therefore, making it difficult to assess re-conviction rates.

In terms of accommodation, in 2004, the YJB found that 15% of all young offenders had a housing need, but in 2006/7 the sample used found all the young offenders had a housing need (Lösel, Bottoms and Farrington, 2007). An issue with these studies, is the sample size was too small and focused on different estates. Therefore making it difficult to generalise to the young offender population. In 2007 YJB reported that 40% of the young offenders surveyed they were homeless or badly housed, while 75% lived with someone other than their parent(s) (Pierson, 2008). Furthermore, in 2004, 15% of young offenders reported to have been left homeless after local authorities failed to house them (YJB, 2006). Housing plays a crucial part in resettlement, a Social Exclusion Unit report stated that good housing can reduce reoffending by 20% (SEU, 2002).  Two thematic reports by HM Inspectorate of Prisons (2011) found that weakness in strategic management and case management, were a reason for these failings. Therefore, the mismanagement in housing young offenders post custody may be leading to higher recidivism.

Labelling theories of crime are referred often as social reaction theories, as they focus on the consequences of responses or reactions to crime (Akers, 2013). Incarceration during adolescence may interrupt human and social capital accumulation at a critical moment leading to reduced future wages in the legal sector and greater criminal activity (Becker 1968). Labelling theory involves two main hypotheses. First is the status characteristics hypothesis, which states that labels are imposed because of the status of those doing the labelling and those being labelled. The second is the secondary deviance hypothesis, which suggests deviant labels create problems where one being labelled has to adjust with and deal with, also under certain conditions labels can lead to greater involvement in crime and deviance (Adler and Laufer, 1993). This in turns argues since that young offenders often are not settled or integrated within the community prior to custody, leaving custody also adds to the issues of being labelled as an “offender”.

Offenders after custody may have an objective view by others as criminals, which potentially could affect their subjective self to believe they are criminals. This may happen according to the self-fulfilling prophecy theory, as ‘criminality becomes the dominant prophecy, a sequence of events may be set in motion that serves to preclude outcomes’ (Farrel, 1978). A strong majority of prolific adult offenders begin committing crimes at a young age (MOJ, 2010). A USA based study found between 30-60% juvenile offenders persisted to offend as adults (Blumstein et al, 1986). On the other, many adolescent offenders, specifically in their early twenties, see a desistence from crime. ‘Late developers’, in terms of offending, are often seen to develop around a similar age (Cook, 2017). This suggests labelling may not lead to further re-offending.

Evidence suggests that Trauma may be caused through custody (Rogers, Harvey and Law, 2015). Young offenders often make a number of transitions from the community to custody, with a cohort of stresses, losses and separations (Goffman, 1961), the stress of the limbo of being ‘between worlds’ with no integration within either, leads to young offenders feeling a loss of control, potentially leading them to continue to offend (Harvey, 2007). Mismanagement of mental illnesses within custody has led to poor adjustment back in to the community (Wasserman et al, 2003). Harm induced from peers or staff increases the likelihood of young people re-offending (Grossman and Roberts, 2011).

Leaving custody, persistent offenders may be referred to a Pupil Referral Unit (PRU), as they may not be welcomed to attend mainstream education anymore. Good PRUs arguably are effective in providing pupils the confidence in returning to mainstream school (Ofsted, 2008). Evidence suggests PRUs to be counter-productive in reducing recidivism, it is potentially ineffective in reducing risk factors and increasing protective factors (Stephenson, Giller, and Brown, 2013). Additionally, the curriculum tends to be limited with a lack of specialist subject teachers (Ofsted, 2009). Furthermore, academic achievement and progression in to further education, training and employment is low (Munn et al, 2000). Evidence regarding the effectiveness of PRU’s is finite, the issue of assessing PRUs’ is agreeing a success criteria. A lack in clarity what progression should be post-16 is variable for the limited evidence (Stephenson, Giller, and Brown, 2013). YOTs and local Learning Skills Councils (LSC) seem to be ineffective in providing effective education for post-16 young offenders (Stephenson, 2006), only just over one third are reportedly having a placement. Even where there was a placement, over two-thirds responded that it was ineffective (YJB, 2009). Therefore, entering custody may have negative impacts in terms of achieving an education.

Programs within the community may involve vocational programs in colleges, these are considered an effective approach for young offenders with ETE needs (Stephenson, Giller, and Brown, 2013). On the other hand it may be difficult to find high status vocational programs, as the England and Wales lack in effective vocational programs (Stephenson, 2006). Within the USA, Jobs Corps, provided vocational programmes to 60,000 juvenile offenders, this saw a massive decrease in criminal behaviour (Siegel and Welsh, 2009). Therefore, more vocational programmes may improve desistence.

Young offenders’ employment is affected in the long term due to their custodial incarceration (Feld and Bishop, 2012). Even though custody creates barriers for attaining education, one study found that, young people with no or few qualifications who gained a level 2 qualification saw a dramatic effect on employment prospects. While achieving a level 3 qualification, they were on par to young people who went through the academic route (McIntosh, 2003). This suggests that if correct courses are provided, it is likely to lead to getting a meaningful qualification, will support their employability prospects.


The purpose of custody is to carry out sentences imposed by the court, while providing support to help rehabilitate these offenders, also in cohort protecting the general public from young offenders who pose a risk to others (Bell, 2002). The fact remains 73% of those under 18 go on to reoffend within a year of being released from a custodial setting (Ministry of Justice, 2012). This shows custody has been failing with empowering offenders with desistence.

Furthermore, with education, training and employment, success varies depending on custodial setting. Ministry of Justice reported only a “few establishments” (STCs) provided opportunities to gain “meaningful and substantial” qualifications (Ministry of Justice, 2011). In terms of YOIs, only one of the nine state funded YOIs in England provides the statutory 12 hours of education each week (Sellgren, 2013). This is an issue as 70% of young offenders in custody are in YOI’s (MOJ, 2014). Whereas, SCH are seen to provide good support due to the high staff ratio and the use of more qualified staff (Goldson, 2002). Furthermore, entering custody often leads to offenders losing a place mainstream education, making it difficult to reintegrate (Stephenson, Giller, and Brown, 2013. This is an issue as there are major inconsistencies and poor placement management leads to unwanted outcomes. While evidence suggests that SCHs are the most effective custodial settings.

Custody has even shown signs of potentially developing mental health issues. The Mental Health Foundation found prevalence rates for mental health problems in young offenders is three times higher than the general population (Clark and Rooprai, 2012). Seeing STC have a negative image due to their reported overuse of restraint (Willow & Zephaniah, 2015). Harm induced from peers or staff leads further re-offending (Grossman and Roberts, 2011). This show STCs may have undesirable outcomes, leading to negative long term implications.

Many young people are not settled or integrated within the community prior to custody (Goldson, 2013). Leaving custody could be adding to the issues, being labelled as an “offender” is leading to negative effects. Therefore, after custody they may have an objective view by others as criminals, which potentially could affect their subjective self to believe they are criminals. This may happen according to the self-fulfilling prophecy theory. (Farrel, 1978).

Accommodation is key for resettlement, statistics shows no change in providing accommodation to young offenders, as the proportion of young people gaining accommodations rest at a high 94%, showing accommodation being potentially positive (Pycroft & Gough, 2010). Yet, the YJB reported in 2007 that 40% of the young offenders surveyed they were homeless or badly housed, while 75% lived with someone other than their parent(s) (Pierson, 2008). Furthermore, in 2004, 15% of young offenders reported to have been left homeless after local authorities failed to house them (YJB, 2006). Furthermore, in 2006/7 the large sample used found all the young offenders had a housing need (Lösel, Bottoms and Farrington, 2007). Therefore, even though accommodation is provided, these accommodation have a tendency unsuitable for the young person, which negatively effects desistence.

In conclusion, custody underachieves in lowering re-offending. Therefore custody is failing one of its key purposes. This may be due to the lack of efficient provisions provided to young offenders, such as gaining qualification within custody. This is problematic as large sums are being invested for inadequate services, especially within STC’s. Inspection arrangements have claimed STC’s tend to perform at good with outstanding features, even though statistics clearly the show high re-offending rates. There is evidence that SCHs are an effective custodial setting, but, since there are limited spaces and those who need extra support may not gain them, this leads to young offenders not gaining the support they need. Leading to potential long term issues. This is troubling as YOIs hold 70% of young offenders in the custodial setting. YOIs have shown many failings as it retains a high re-offending rate.

Research Proposal


As there is a lack of research analysing the implications of custody in detail. Literature reviews of youth corrections suggests that detention may have negative effects on young people’s mental and physical well-being (Holman & Ziedenberg, 2011). Yet, there is no holistic research exploring more factors of what effects occur from entering custody. Most research focuses on re-offending and most research in this field tends to use quantitative data. Gaining data like this is reductionist and often portray the deeper factors effected by custody. This approach will perhaps help uncover if custody has had negative implications, in terms of accommodation, ETE and mental health. Furthermore, this also allows previous young offenders express their view on the custodial setting.

Overall Approach

An interpretivist approach has been chosen to determine what implication custody has had on young offenders and why these implications occurred. The purpose of choosing interpretivist approach is to delve in to this natural phenomena and analyse in a holistic manner. This approach allows the research to collect more qualitative data rather than quantitative. The purpose of qualitative data will be to determine ‘what’ and ‘why?’ of the effects of custody. Additionally, this approach offers no absolute assessment of right and wrong (Sheeran, 1993). There has been limited research looking at how custody young people’s life’s, in terms of mental health, education and employability. It will be compulsory for the researcher to be involved in the research topic as interviewing the participants will be necessary. Therefore, a positivist approach was not chosen as the link between crime and ETE has been explored to a degree. Previous research has indicated this with quantitative data. Therefore, research carried on this topic has provided a high level of quantitative data.


This research will use triangulation by data, the three samples will consist of ETE, Mental Health and accommodation. The question will be in terms of how they believe custody has shaped these three samples. This allows qualitative data to be compared between independent groups, this will be important as answers will be triangulated to find what influence custody has on young people, while potentially gaining another perspective why they occur. Triangulation allows exploration of social events by the comparison of several pieces of data (Carl et al., 2011). This help map out the complexity of human behaviour by studying it from more than one perspective. Moreover, triangulation (Descombe, 2014) allows a stronger insight to what may be influencing certain social phenomena’s, in this case offending behaviour. Therefore, triangulation by method will not be necessary as the purpose is to discover what implications custody has had. Therefore, more perspectives will provide richer data.  This research will only use a single method, intervewing, which aims to gain qualitative data, therefore mixed data will not be required for this experiment.


The study will use unstructured interviews to gain insight of the implications of entering custody. Two independent groups shall be interviewed; young people who have entered the custodial setting and not re-offended and those who have. Two groups allows a comparison of persistent and one of offenders. This will be done to see if persistence in entering has even more significant effects. The purpose of unstructured interviews will rely on natural probes to keep the design as neutral as possible (Bailey, 2008). This interviews will consist of question such as “why?” And “interesting”, the purpose of this will be to keep the conversation natural, empower the participant to speak confidently and therefore allowing them to provide richer data. Gordon (1969) argues that unstructured interviews provide more valid data compared to structured interviews. It will be important to try and maintain focus on how custody may have shaped their life’s’ within the interviews while using open questions, such as “how has custody effected your education?” will allow focus to be kept on the topic, while unearthing what implication custody has had. While, seeing links in why these occur. It will be key to focus on mental health, accommodation and ETE.

These interviews will take place on the favoured location of the interviewee or the participant, to keep the research as natural as possible. Yet, a potential issue of using unstructured interviews may be that the interviews will be too unfocused on the research question (Klenke, 2015). Unstructured interviews may also lead to unreliable answers, since there will be no structure to the interview answers may vary or be inconsistent. After the interviews are complete, the answers will need to be reviewed. The focus will be to compare the interviews between the independent groups. While comparing this data it will be important to discover recurring themes spoken about within the interviews, such as “custody had a negative impact on my education”. It will be important to see if themes come up consistently throughout the groups. Discovering a mean, median and mode (MMM) will help find patterns between the groups. Additionally, it will also be key to find the MMM within the groups. This will allow a comparison between each group’s MMM, also potentially allowing a further insight how custody impacted these groups.


This research focuses on the implication of custody. It will be important to use participants who have passed through the custodial setting as offenders. Therefore, the two independent groups will need to be; young people who have entered the custodial setting and not re-offended and those who have re-offended. A sample size of ten participants for each group will be needed, this size will should be large enough for a clear enough picture to be established to answer the research question. Furthermore, interviews are lengthy, this sample size should not be too time consuming too. The most appropriate place to find this sample will be local YOTs.  This research will use stratified sampling, as this research has a clear relationship between the stratified variable and the variables of substantive interest, this will mean a reduction of sampling error (Newman and Newman, 2008).


YOTs will need to be contacted to ask if they know anyone who fits the categories required for the research, similarly other agencies may need to be contacted in a similar fashion. The participant will get small sum of money for partaking, as research shows it increases engagement (Singer & Couper, 2008). A consensual form will be handed to the participants and parents/careers of the participants, if they are under the age of 18. This form will explain the purpose of the research and what will take place. Additionally, this form will allow participants to choose a convenient/comfortable interview location. Participants’ information will be kept confidential and they will be informed of this prior to the research. The research does not require participants to do anything that will harm them, this will be stated in the consensual form given to the participants and participant’s parents/careers. In case distress does occur to the participants, a councillor will be present to provide assistance with the scenario. Furthermore, if participants suffer any trauma from this research they will able to contact researchers, who will provide the best/suitable support possible.


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