Leroy Logan MBE explains why the Inclusive Britain report is getting some things right about young adults but needs to put words into action.
Whilst I’m critical of the Government’s response to racial inequalities and associated disproportionalities, I was encouraged by its commitment in the recently launched ‘Inclusive Britain’ report (the Government’s response to the controversial Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities report published a year ago). The ‘Inclusive Britain’ report asserted that “young adult offenders (those aged 18 to 24) receive age-appropriate consequences for their actions and are discouraged from repeating criminal behaviour … we do not want to see them criminalised if there is a strong argument for a second chance, especially where individuals are motivated to acknowledge and learn from the experience. Where drugs offences come about through the exploitation of vulnerable young people, we want to avoid a cycle of victims becoming offenders”.
Why focus on young adults?
T2A has been advocating for age appropriate services for more than a decade. In that time we’ve amassed substantial evidence from neuroscience which shows that the brain is not fully formed until at least the mid-20s. The upshot of this is that young adults typically have more ‘psychosocial’ similarities to older children than to adults in their reasoning and decision-making. Young adulthood is also a stage of life where behaviour change is more likely. There is a crucial window of opportunity where desistance from crime can be nurtured as the young adult brain is receptive to learning and personal growth.
Working in the police service for many years, I witnessed first-hand the impact on young adults, their families and communities when they are in the justice system. As the newly appointed chair of the Transition to Adulthood Alliance (T2A), I’m pleased to see a shift in the Government’s approach to 18-24 year olds in the Inclusive Britain report but this does mark a different approach to some recent positions adopted by the Government. For example the legislative changes planned in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill which removes some existing recognition that young adults should be treated differently because of their developmental status. Nevertheless, key parts of the justice system, notably prisons and probation, acknowledge that young adulthood extends up to the age of 25 and require a distinct service.
At T2A, we are very concerned by the significant and growing disproportionality of young adults of colour in the criminal justice system. These disparities have continued to increase as consecutive governments have failed to hear and deliver on the recommendations from several reviews of the criminal justice system — such as the 2017 Lammy Review, and going back many years now the Macpherson Inquiry — where potential reasons for racial disparities were explored and the need for more systematic research to understand the causes has been identified.
I would like to see the government go further and commit to providing age appropriate services, which tackle long-standing inequalities, right across the criminal justice system.
Recently the government showed its intent to invest in supporting families with complex needs and has asked the Children’s Commissioner to review the way public services understand the needs of children and families. We would like to see this extended to young adults up to 25. Young people typically reach what might have been seen as traditional milestones of adulthood at a much older age than when I started my policing career. Young adults and their families generally have access to fewer supportive public services than children because there a cliff edge of provision dropping away when they turn 18.
Young adult vulnerability
Because of their age, young adults involved in serious crime are rarely viewed as possible victims but rather as highly culpable perpetrators. While I welcome recent significant shifts in understanding the nature of youth criminality and the role of exploitation in violent and drug-related offences, this has typically focused on those who are demonstrably young and vulnerable. The fact that the vulnerability of those young adults may well have brought them into crime is rarely recognised. For instance, recent statistics from MOPAC (Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime) in London show that only 22% of referrals for support are aged 18-25. However, 69% of people known to be involved in County Lines are aged 18-25. [MOPAC, Rescue and Response Strategic Assessment]. And research shows that public services can disproportionately view black young people as adults before they are 18 and have higher expectations of them in a process known as ‘adultification’.
Talking to young adults
T2A places utmost importance on developing solutions with people who are experts because of their own experience of the criminal justice system. In implementing the actions set out in the ‘Inclusive Britain’ report, the Government could usefully engage with young adults of colour, for example, through organisations like Leaders Unlocked. In the Leaders Unlocked report Race and the Criminal Justice System, young adults provided powerful testimony of their experiences of engaging with public services which make for sobering reading. They demonstrate a lack of trust in the system starting in childhood. Once involved in the criminal justice system, young adults find that they are perceived through a narrow lens as a perpetrator or a criminal. They may find it challenging to move on from their offence and rebuild their lives, which ultimately is what we all want.
Leroy Logan MBE is chair of T2A