The riots that took place across the UK have given rise to intense scrutiny and reflection on why it happened and how to prevent it happening again. Some of those involved committed violent and dangerous offences against others and local properties, undertaking premeditated burglary and theft. These actions cannot be condoned and deserve proportionate punishment.
It is also becoming clear that a significant number of those involved were not in this category. Many of the recent sentences that have been given and, in some cases subsequently appealed, have been grossly disproportionate. It has been widely reported that a majority of those involved were young people, and two thirds were under 25. The Transition to Adulthood Alliance, which works to promote a more effective response for young adults in the criminal justice system, includes organisations who work at the sharp edge in the areas most directly affected by the riots, who have been able to get first-hand exposure to the views of young people about why some of their peers got involved.
In many cases, immaturity and a deficit of self-control, was at the heart of it. Young people, caught up in the crowd and lacking the maturity to refrain from being part of the moment, ended up committing crimes of sheer thoughtlessness, whether stealing a bottle of water or posting reckless messages on social media, unaware of the seriousness or the consequences of their actions.
These young people, many of whom have no previous criminal record and were unknown to the police prior to these events, are now in custodial remand and facing sentences in prison. The T2A Alliance believes that, while the young people must face the consequences of their actions, this will be the wrong approach in almost all cases. T2A has campaigned since 2008 for a more effective approach to young people who commit crime during early adulthood. Working on the frontline, we know what works: responses to young adult crime must be proportionate and carefully tailored to the individual. The current use of custodial remand and short prison sentences is neither. For these young people and the communities they live in, the current reaction will only make things worse.
After the dust settles and sentences following the riots have been handed out, there will be potentially thousands more young people in prison. When their time in prison is through, all will leave prison, but few will be able to resettle into society. Many will have nowhere stable to live and most will be without a sustainable means to earn money. As this week’s NEET statistics show, they will join almost one million 18-24 year olds not in education, employment or training. It’s little wonder that most young adults leaving custody reoffend within a year.
T2A’s work on the ground, at the T2A projects, demonstrates the alternative – working alongside the criminal justice process and supporting young people by securing accommodation, training and long term prospects of earning a living, and addressing their thinking and emotional capabilities. Two of the T2A projects operate in areas that were directly affected by the riots. One, run by the St Giles Trust in Croydon, supports young people leaving prison by providing peer mentors, all of whom are ex offenders themselves and know from their own lives the challenging journey that young adults are travelling. In Birmingham, the probation service is pioneering new approaches to managing the transition of young people from the youth to adult justice systems, and working with the courts to provide a real alternative to custody. In West Mercia, YSS provides tailored support for mental health issues, substance abuse, accommodation and debt problems.
All of the T2A projects share a unifying factor: to support young adults to have a future that they see value in protecting. According to the formative evaluation of the T2A projects by Oxford University, three in four young adults engaged with T2A were known or believed to be ‘going straight’ – a major achievement compared to the current national reconviction rates. The interventions pioneered by the T2A aren’t about what works politically but what works in reality – and this is the better, and tougher, alternative.