The effectiveness of youth conferencing

Publication: 26/03/15
“Youth conferencing has delivered positive outcomes for the clear majority of young participants,” says Inspectorate

The effectiveness of youth conferences as a way of dealing proportionately with children who break the law has been examined in a report published today by Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland (CJI).

The report, ‘The effectiveness of youth conferencing’ examined how the Youth Justice Agency (YJA) used youth conferences to deal with young offenders in supporting them to accept responsibility for their behaviour and its impact on their victims.
“Youth conferencing in its present format has delivered positive outcomes for the clear majority of young participants,” said Brendan McGuigan, Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland. 
“Dealing proportionately with children who break the law, helping them to accept responsibility for their behaviour and recognise their effect on victims, are key objectives for our criminal justice system.  It is also important that children, their parents or guardians, victims and the courts have confidence that the process of restorative conferencing works in the best interests of the child and wider society,” said the Chief Inspector.
The inspection revealed that the youth conference process is working more effectively and efficiently than identified in past CJI reports published in 2008 and 2010. 
Higher risk young people had been appropriately channelled into an Intensive Supervision and Support Programme (ISSP) which provided a more robust method of ensuring young persons’ needs are met in a way that helped prevent re-offending. 
“This report identifies that around 40% of referrals involved young people who were looked-after in the care home system, and there were inconsistencies in how these young people are dealt with when they commit offences.  The report calls for the development of a joint strategy between the YJA and the Health Trusts aimed at integrating restorative practices within all care homes in support of youth conferences,” said Mr McGuigan.
The Chief Inspector added that efforts to increase the level of youth conferencing work within the Juvenile Justice Centre should continue.
In conclusion Mr McGuigan said “While there is a wealth of research supporting the principle of diversion for children who offend, there is still little by way of empirical evidence to support restorative conferencing as an effective mechanism for reducing re-offending.   However, we found substantial support for youth conferencing amongst practitioners, victims of crime and young people consulted during the inspection.”