4 June 2024

Devon and Cornwall Police – An Evidence-Based Approach to Diversion

Desistance from crime, Diversion, Young adults

In March, we held our T2A (Transition to Adulthood) Alliance meeting – a quarterly gathering of organisations working towards improving outcomes for young adults. One of our guest speakers was Sarah Carlsen-Browne, Senior Manager for Reducing Reoffending at Devon and Cornwall Police, who spoke about their enhanced service for 18-25 years olds and those with care experience.

Sarah Carlsen-Browne began by speaking to the assembled Alliance members about how crucial it is for the public to have a positive perception of diversion schemes.

That’s why, Sarah says, it’s crucial to focus on the facts. Research shows that adults released from custodial sentences of less than 12 months have a reoffending rate of 57.5%1.

Sarah adds: “We know formal processing is less effective for low level offending, and the evidence for diversion is much more compelling. But culture change is vital to shift negative perceptions.”

Sarah argues that a more nuanced approach is required – one that recognises that young adults who commit low-level offences have often been failed by the system on multiple occasions. To reinforce this point, Sarah pointed to a finding in The Lammy Review:

“Many prisoners arrive in custody as damaged individuals. In the youth estate, 33% arrive with mental health problems, whilst a similar proportion presents with learning difficulties. A third of children in prison have spent time in the care system, 45% arrive with substance misuse problems and 61% have a track record of disengagement with education.2

This was one of several factors that prompted Devon and Cornwall Police to develop a new Out of Court Resolution (OOCR) scheme to reduce reoffending amongst 18-25-years olds and care leavers.

The scheme takes a strength-based approach to working with young adults – helping them to take positive steps towards a pro-social identity. It also helps individuals to be mindful of the harm they may have caused and the consequences of their behaviour.

Sarah describes the attitude adopted by professionals as:

“We’ll be open-minded, curious and aspirational about individuals coming to police attention and think creatively about how we can prevent future harm and demand.”

The day-to-day operations are handled by two key workers who are trained in how to sensitively respond to young adults’ needs. For example, they can meet young adults away from official places like police stations.

“We always ensure that we recruit the right individuals for these roles, and they are trained in everything they need to know to work successfully with young adults once in post.”

All young adults who enter the scheme have access to the following:

  • Neurodiversity screening using the Do-It Justice Profiler tool.
  • A personalised budget to engage in employment and education opportunities.
  • Pre-prosecution mental health provision.

“Four years on from completing my Pathfinder {now called OOCR} course, I haven’t gotten into any trouble, and I am now working full time in my ideal job and also in a relationship. Life is going well.” (Young Adult)

Key workers carry out a holistic needs and risk assessment to identify the young adult’s strengths and needs.

Devon and Cornwall Police don’t commission services, but they have built relationships with the voluntary sector and local organisations to develop interventions. After a referral has been made to an appropriate organisation, a joint handover meeting is held between the young adult, their key worker, and a representative from the organisation.

The key worker maintains an active relationship with the young adult throughout and is on hand to offer support as needed.

Sarah explains, “This is not about processing people. It’s about building relationships.”

Every young adult enters a four-month contract. All young adults must comply with the following contract requirements:

  • No reoffending
  • Restorative and reparation conditions
  • Rehabilitation programme based on holistic assessment

Engagement with the contract conditions is reviewed based on how the young adult has engaged with the key worker. Sarah reported that there have been few breaches.

Once the contact is completed, the young adult has a meeting with their key worker to review their progress, offer feedback, and agree an exit strategy – ensuring they can continue to develop, grow, and realise their full potential.

Successful completion will result in no further action. If additional support is required, the young adult can stay connected to the service after the four-month period ends.

  1. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/proven-reoffending-statistics-january-to-march-2020/proven-reoffending-statistics-january-to-march-2020 ↩︎
  2. Pg 47: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/media/5a82009040f0b62305b91f49/lammy-review-final-report.pdf ↩︎