In response to the Lammy Review, the Ministry of Justice piloted Chance to Change (C2C) deferred prosecution schemes across sites in West Yorkshire and London to address racial disparity in the youth and adult justice systems.
Why Deferred Prosecution schemes?
Deferred prosecution schemes remove the legal requirement for an admission of guilt, which allows people who have been accused of an offence to receive support and interventions that can address the causes of their offending behaviour, while avoiding court.
Though deferred prosecution schemes were not originally designed to address racial disparity, the removal of an admission of guilt has been found to tackle ‘inconsistent plea decisions’ between minoritised individuals (particularly black men) and their white counterparts. Deferred prosecutions schemes have also seen to improve trust and confidence in policing for participants and have higher rates of victim satisfaction.
The pilots have been evaluated by Manchester Metropolitan University, and they have recently published their final report based on a series of theory of change workshops and semi-structured interviews from practitioners and service users. While the West Yorkshire pilot was available to children aged 10-17 years old, the London pilot was for young adults, with both sites offering the scheme to those who would have received an Out-of-Court disposal (OOCD) or been charged to court.
Report findings: A Chance to Change?
The report found that there were many benefits to the scheme from practitioners (specifically Police) and service users alike. The offer of holistic, tailored support that was not enforceable was a huge benefit as participants felt like they were given an ‘opportunity’ to be referred into support, such as a substance misuse programmes or Child and Adolescent Mental Health services, that they would have been otherwise unable to access.
However, the report highlighted the need for training and a culture shift within policing as there was some confusion among Police officers that an admission of guilt was not required to refer individuals to the C2C schemes. Furthermore, some police officers were not aware that a person could be referred to the scheme even if they gave a no comment interview
This tension between practice and principle is mirrored across Police forces and Youth Justice Services across England and Wales, with the common misconception that a non-admission of guilt will impede on a participant’s level of engagement due to a perceived ‘lack of remorse’.
Studies indicate that a person’s understanding of guilt develops with their age and level of maturity. Considering the criminal justice system has a large cohort of 18–25-year-olds, a removal of this requirement is necessary in order to give people fair access to schemes. The requirement of guilt or outwards showing of remorse can disproportionality affect black and mixed heritage children (boys in particular) who are often adultified by professionals around them, which can result in certain behaviours being wrongly identified as showing a lack of remorse.
Some service users reported that the C2C scheme provided opportunities to improve trust and perceptions of Police, while others were sceptical of the scheme. For example, when interventions took place at a Police station, this caused anxiety for some participants and a feeling they had no choice in taking part in the scheme as there were worse outcomes for non-engagement.
In cases like this, we advocate moving interventions outside of formal justice settings and into the community, to encourage more engagement and develop links with support services once their criminal justice involvement is over. It is important to recognise that deferred prosecution schemes, though beneficial for minoritised people, still operate within a climate of mistrust and lack of confidence. Understanding the historical context of trust between the Police and minoritised communities is vital when developing these schemes.
The pilot found that issues stemming from policing can negatively impact service users’ trust in the Police and the wider justice system, and therefore their engagement with the scheme. Learning from this, practitioners should consider their policing practices, training and cultural competency in order to increase uptake from participants while improving practice, so minoritised communities are not overrepresented in local justice systems. Where appropriate and proportionate, police forces should aim to divert people away from the justice system as it reduces reoffending, allowing for service users to receive support while possibly avoiding a criminal record.
Supporting young adults
Importantly, there is a noticeable gap in identifying young adult’s experiences of deferred prosecution schemes. Young adults in particular have specific and complex needs that require distinct offers of support from practitioners who have been specifically trained to work with this cohort.
Though the report mentions that service users were offered tailored interventions, it was not made clear the level of support they were given and whether they received adequate exit planning. This is a legal requirement for children that should be offered to young adults too. Practitioners should assess the demographics of their area before setting up a deferred prosecution scheme and consider if they have the appropriate services for those aged 18-25.
New framework, better outcomes?
The new Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts bill will be introducing a reformed framework for statutory out of court disposals, streamlining the existing six tiers into two tiers. The upper tier, the ‘Diversionary Caution’, simply renames the current conditional caution. The new ‘Community Caution’ is the name for the lower tier, and will be an umbrella disposal for outcomes such as penalty notices for disorder and simple cautions. Current non-statutory disposals such as Community Resolution, Diversion and Deferred Prosecution will continue to sit outside of this new framework.
Although the implementation for this new framework is fast approaching, the evidence shows that OOCDs are effective only when they scale down people’s contact with the criminal justice system. We hope that moving away from formally processing people in the justice system will continue to have significant reductions in reoffending, reduce the demand and cost on the justice system, and address the root cause of offending behaviour.