Lincolnshire panel designed to divert teens from committing serious offences is working says university report

Most of the young offenders who appear before a panel designed to help them avoid them getting a criminal record, have not had to face court or cautionary action, a new report reveals.

A University of Lincoln report before Lincolnshire County Council on Friday describes the Joint Diversionary Panel, which examines young offenders’ cases instead of sending them straight to court, as a robust and effective process, which has “significantly improved outcomes for young people in the county whilst maintaining community safety”.

The panel can decide to charge the young people, who are aged between 10-18, or give them a Youth Conditional Caution. It can also ask them to go for restorative intervention, a community resolution, or even take no further action against them.

The university analysed the service’s data for the two-year period between January 2018 to December 2019 and found 867 cases were heard at JDP.

Out of 867 cases heard by the panel, a total of 93 youngsters ended with criminal justice system action, with 54 being charged, three receiving a Youth Caution and 36 a Youth Conditional caution.

Around 75 per cent of cases were given stronger forms of Youth Restorative Intervention — however, the report does not say which offences these outcomes relate to. 30 cases (around three per cent) received no further action.

The data includes young people who commit serious crimes such as sexual offences, knife possession, GBH and burglary who are being sent to a panel which hopes to avoid youth offenders getting a criminal record.

In the two year period the university looked into, there were 21 sexual offences, 67 weapons offences, a threat to kill and 296 violent offences.

Around one fifth of cases (178) were involving young people aged between 10-13, with the majority (673) between the ages of 14-17.

A quarter of the cases were being heard for a second or subsequent offence.

The report notes “mixed feelings” about the gravity of some cases, with one anonymised participant quoted as saying: “When it was first rolled out, it was kind of low-level offences; kind of first-time entry offences: shoplifting, or maybe […] low gravity scores for the police.

“What we tend to have found, just recently, is those offences have risen; the gravity level of the offence has risen, which is difficult to justify to victims.”

A further report before LCC members on Friday says that between September 2020-August 2021, three sexual offences were examined, along with 123 violent offences, 27 drugs offences and 36 weapons.

Lincolnshire Police and Crime Commissioner Marc Jones said the panel held young people to account while “appropriately avoiding” burdening them with a criminal record or jail.

He said it also prevented young offenders from being forced “into a downward spiral of criminal activity – creating more victims in the process”.

“The outcomes imposed by this expert panel are far from an ‘easy’ way out for these youngsters.

“In many cases it forces them to carry out a punitive element such as community work, face their victims or both, as opposed to a caution which can simply mean signing a piece of paper admitting guilt which then dogs them for life,” he said.

He noted the report’s conclusion, adding: “There are elements of the work that will require constant review and there is no doubt that COVID and lockdown has created unparalleled challenges for the project.

“I very much welcome the positive conclusions of the report and any issues it raises will be digested and questions asked of those organisations participating in the operational work.”

Andy Cook, Lincolnshire County Council’s Head of Service – Future4Me and Youth Offending, said that since the panel started in 2017 it had “almost entirely resulted in the removal of the simple youth caution”.

He said youth restorative interventions offered “timely and meaningful support to children and young people outside of the formal criminal justice system”.

He said cases referred to the panel were examined and referred by Lincolnshire Police and/or the Crown Prosecution Service before being passed on.

“All offences have a national recognised gravity matrix score, which reflects the seriousness of the offence and these factors and others, including previous offending are considered,” he said.

“Additionally, an important consideration is the impact of the offence upon victims and the views of victims are gathered within the police investigation as part of the statutory duties afforded to victims of crime.”

He said around half of all youth cases were still prosecuted at youth or crown court, and the whole process was scrutinised regularly by an out of court disposal scrutiny panel in Lincolnshire, which included magistrates among its members.

The university’s report notes that between 50-60 per cent of victims responded positively to questions about the JDP – however, around a quarter said they were dissatisfied with the result.

The report comes the same week that Lincolnshire Police take part in the national Operation Sceptre, a knife amnesty enabling people to hand in offensive weapons without fear of consequences.

So far this year, the Lincolnshire operation, Op Raptor, has marked 42 offences for possession of an offensive weapon, and a further 146 public order offences which intimated, referenced or involved an offensive weapon.