It was launched with the aim of keeping young people out of the criminal justice system by taking responsibility for their wrongdoing. 

Now, less than two years on, ‘Children First’ a progressive partnership between Prospects, part of Shaw Trust, Gloucestershire County Council (GCC), the Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) and Gloucestershire Constabulary, has been celebrated at the highest level.

Prue Leith, writer and broadcaster presents Children First / Shaw Trust with a Commendation in the Restorative Approach category at The 2019 Howard League for Penal Reform ‘Policing the community’ conference and Community Awards 2019 at the King’s Fund in central London, UK. (Image © Andy Aitchison / Howard League)

Between January 2018 and April 2019, 309 youth restorative interventions (YRI) were given to 275 young people in Gloucestershire as a direct alternative to a criminal penalty, which may have marked them for life.

In March this year, thanks to Children First, Gloucestershire had the second biggest reduction of first time entrants into the criminal justice system in the country.

Reoffending rates for children have also continued to be significantly lower than for those in the criminal justice system, down from 44% for a youth caution to 13.5% in the first year and 9% in the year to date.

The figures represent one of the biggest reductions in youth offending in the country and resulted in a ‘commendation’ for Children First in the prestigious Howard League awards, which recognises exceptional work within the field of criminal justice.

Kate Langley, Strategic Lead for Youth Justice in Gloucestershire who also leads on the PCC’s policing priority for helping young people become responsible adults said, “We recognise that children who come into contact with the police for wrongdoing are often vulnerable themselves. For them, traditional sanctions are ineffective and can make things worse.

“Since 2018 all decisions regarding youth cautions and criminal charges have been referred to a joint decision-making panel, able to resolve most cases through a youth restorative intervention.  In other words, encouraging young people to take responsibility and make amends for their wrongdoing. This can include elements of restorative justice, where the young person may meet their victim, write a letter or undertake some work within the community to make amends for their behaviour, whilst offering them the support they need.

“But it’s not a soft option. Any young person who does not engage with the programme faces a return to the caution or criminal charge process. However, in the past year only 4% of young people given a YRI have been returned to the panel for not engaging”.

PCC Martin Surl said, “This is a great achievement and well deserved. We know this is the right thing to do. Young people need all the help they can get to become successful adults. A mistake taken when they’re young should not affect them for the rest of their lives”.

The Howard League is the oldest penal reform charity in the UK. It was established in 1866 and continues to campaign for less crime, safer communities and fewer people in prison.