Young Offenders, Risk Assessment and Public Protection by lindayy


Young Offenders, Risk Assessment and Public Protection

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									Young Offenders, Risk Assessment and Public Protection
Kerry Baker,, University of Oxford
The intense media and political scrutiny that has long been associated with decisions
made by social workers about child protection is now increasingly being seen in the
criminal justice arena with regard to assessment of offenders who present a risk of
serious harm to other people. However, there has so far been little academic
consideration of the decisions made by youth justice workers concerning young
people who may pose a risk to others. In England and Wales, practitioners in youth
offending teams (YOTs) are required to undertake assessments of each young person
they deal with and this will include an assessment of any likelihood of him or her
committing future offences that would cause serious harm to others. The quality and
robustness of these risk assessments is important given the significance of the
potential outcomes of decisions, for example, under the provisions of the Criminal
Justice Act 2003 a young person convicted of committing one of a predefined list of
‘serious specified offences’ who is also judged by a court to be ‘dangerous’ can be
given an indeterminate custodial sentence.
Since 2000, all YOTs have been using a structured assessment framework known as
Asset which not only prompts practitioners about key factors to consider but also
requires them to record evidence for their decisions and judgements. Completed Asset
forms therefore provide a rich source of data for analysis of assessments made about
young people who offend. This paper would include analysis of data collected from
YOTs relating to assessment of the risks young people present to others (Baker,
2007), together with relevant findings from inspection reports and audits. Particular
consideration will be given to the extent and range of hypotheses that practitioners use
in making judgments about the risks that young people may present to others. It will
be argued that, as in the child protection field, progress in collecting relevant
information for assessments has not been matched by improvements in analysis and
that practitioners may not be coping very well with the challenge of undertaking
complex risk assessments.
The paper will also draw on themes from the wider literature on decision-making to
consider relevant issues around organisational culture and context. For example, is it
possible for practitioners in agencies which prescribe the use of particular risk
assessment frameworks to take account of the interesting theoretical concept of
‘respectful uncertainty’ (Taylor and White, 2006) whilst dealing with the practical
priority of having to make clear decisions at specific points in time about
interventions required to reduce risk? In addition, political, legislative and managerial
initiatives for improving public protection need to take greater account of the
challenges of real-life risk assessment.
Baker, K. (2007) ‘Risk, Uncertainty and Public Protection: Assessment of Young
People Who Offend’, British Journal of Social Work, doi: 10.1093/bjsw/bcm054
Taylor, C. and White, S. (2006) ‘Knowledge and Reasoning in Social Work:
Educating for Humane Judgement’, British Journal of Social Work, 32(7): 937-954

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