The rise and fall of mentoring in youth justice

Porteous, David (2007) The rise and fall of mentoring in youth justice. Prison Service Journal, 170 . pp. 20-24. ISSN 0300-3558

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Abstract

A recent report published by the Local Government Association (LGA), ‘Children in Trouble', calls for the abolition of youth custody for ‘all but violent offenders, drastically slashing the number of young people locked up by around 4000' (2006, p1). Such a move, the authors say, would represent a 65 per cent fall in the young prison population and save over £70m a year. The report was publicly welcomed by spokespersons for the charities NACRO and the Howard League for Penal Reform both of which have issued similar demands for a reduction in custody in recent months and years, alongside other campaigning organizations and a number of criminologists. The reasons cited are familiar: imprisoning young people is relatively expensive, frequently harmful to their longer term welfare and largely ineffective in terms of tackling re-offending. Whilst custody should remain the default option for children and young people who pose a serious risk to others, the majority should be subject to community based sanctions. There is much to agree with in the LGA report and I should preface what follows by stating that nothing of what I write is intended to diminish the importance of reducing the imprisonment of children and young people. However, if this goal is to be realised, as the LGA acknowledges, then there must be viable community based alternatives in place, not least because there is a considerable constituency that doubts that this is possible or desirable. With this in mind, this article discusses the ups and downs of one form of community based work with young offenders, mentoring. In the space of about ten years, this has become an integral element of provision across the spectrum of youth justice. There are preventative mentoring schemes targeting young children designated at-risk and there are re-integrative schemes in which mentors are matched with young people whilst in custody so as to provide a form of support on release. And yet, at a point where the hundreds of new mentoring schemes established in recent years can be reasonably expected to have bedded down, with systems for referral, training, matching and so on in place, recent research, to be discussed below, has raised question marks over its effectiveness such that its transition from being ‘what's promising' to ‘what works' looks in doubt. Reflecting on this turn of events, the article revisits the context in and process by which mentoring grew to prominence and suggests that factors such as marketing and rebranding might have had a more important role than impartial research evidence.

Item Type:Article
Research Areas:School of Law > Criminology and Sociology
ID Code:2830
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Deposited On:14 Sep 2009 11:01
Last Modified:15 Jul 2014 08:30

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