YCS delivering an effective and useful service for victims and offenders


An inspection of the Youth Conference Service (YCS) - part of the Youth Justice Agency - carried out by Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland (CJI) has found the organisation to be delivering an effective and useful service for victims of crime and young offenders.

The inspection report published today (21st February) found that staff and management working within the YCS were totally committed to providing a restorative conferencing system which worked equally well for both parties.
“Inspectors found staff in the YCS were focused on getting the balance right between the needs of young offenders and victims. They also found that young offenders and victims who had participated in a youth conference felt the process was positive and worthwhile,” said Brendan McGuigan, Deputy Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland.
“Inspectors however identified that the YCS was operating at the limit of its capacity given its present structures and resources. CJI concluded that the YCS would be unable to sustain its current workload of around 2000 referrals per year and maintain quality unless steps were taken,” Mr McGuigan continued, adding that since the inspection had been completed additional resources had been made available.
The Deputy Chief Inspector said it was also important that plans that were in the pipeline for other areas within the Youth Justice Agency including Community Services to undertake aspects of the YCS workload were progressed.
“The availability of additional resources within the Youth Justice Agency to undertake elements of the YCS’s work such as monitoring conference plans, will ensure the quality of the conferencing process is maintained in the future,” he said.
“Inspectors also found during the inspection that there was some overlap between the work of the YCS and the Probation Board as they were often dealing with the same young people. 
“While both organisations have worked to coordinate their activities, more could be done as part of a full system-wide review into current practices in youth offending to ensure a clearer more integrated system which places restorative practice at its core,” said Mr McGuigan.
In addition to these recommendations, CJI has called for reliable up-to-date information to be produced to show if the YCS is more effective in reducing re-offending compared with other areas within the traditional justice system.
Inspectors found that the latest information available from the Northern Ireland Office, which relates to reconviction figures rather than re-offending, dated back to 2002. 
“As this information was collected and published before the Youth Conference Service was established, it does not provide the organisation or the wider criminal justice system with information to show whether the YCS is achieving its primary objective,” he said.
“This means that at present we are only able to evaluate in human terms whether the YCS is intervening to help young people make amends to their victims for their offences and take steps to prevent them becoming involved in further crime.
“We were however pleased to note that at the time of the inspection the YCS was moving to address this issue by gathering its own information on re-offending. Inspectors look forward to reviewing this data when it is published,” stated Mr McGuigan.
In conclusion, Northern Ireland’s Deputy Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice said the picture found by CJI was a positive one and that the Inspectorate remained convinced in principle of the value of this restorative approach to criminal justice.
“While it may not always be successful especially when dealing with persistent young offenders or victims who do not wish to participate, when both offender and victim can be brought together in an appropriate environment, restorative conferencing can be highly effective,” Mr McGuigan said.