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Engaging Trauma-Impacted Youth in the Justice System

Excerpt from Jerry: Society's black sheep please click here to buy for just £1.

I believe that when examining youth entering the criminal justice system, we must first consider the factors leading them there. If we see angry outbursts we need to ask what does this stem from. Experience, as you might agree, often shows that significant events or traumas in a young person's early life, such as the death or abandonment of a loved one, can have a profound impact. A previously well-behaved child may become disruptive, a confident and chatty one withdrawn, and a polite one disrespectful. While the exact manifestation varies, trauma will likely causes short-term personality changes, or long term changes if left unaddressed. That's why I believe it's vital to work with these young people from an empathetic view to begin with so as not to add to the difficulties they have already faced in their life.

Excerpt from Jerry: Society's black sheep please click here to buy for just £1.

I can recall working with young people who had committed serious offences and were subject to court orders like ISS (intensive Supervision Surveillance) or under MAPPA (Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements). This experience opened my eyes to the delicate balance involved. While rehabilitation is a key goal, the youth justice system prioritises public safety. This can create situations where even seemingly simple acts, like Jerry's desire to place flowers on his mother's grave, spark fierce debate. Where, the question becomes: do we prioritise public protection or the young person's needs? This tension ultimately fueled my decision to establish my organisation, as I wanted greater flexibility in working with these young people.

Notes - I made a mistake, in this excerpt it should have said MAPPA level 1 not 2 as 2 is for sex offenders.

Excerpt from Jerry: Society's black sheep please click here to buy for just £1.

Here's my personal perspective: I believe some young people, regardless of their environment, possess a strong drive to excel. This ambition can manifest in positive ways, like striving to be the best footballer or mathematician. Or it can manifest in negative ways within street culture. I've witnessed young people fiercely dedicated to building their "line" (drug dealing operation) or, as the news highlights, ‘scoring points’ and inflicting violence and becoming known as being ”on job".

This inherent desire to be the best is something I understand and believe those in youth justice and social care should acknowledge. It's crucial to identify alternative outlets for this determination. This understanding is the foundation of our music studio project at Red Light Busking. We recognise that music is a common outlet for young people caught up in street life, as they use it as a way to express their experiences of the world, where many look at music also being away for them to escape from street life.  

Excerpt from Jerry: Society's black sheep please click here to buy for just £1.

When you think about youth offending I’m sure one of the first things that will come to mind is preventing young people from committing crimes and thinking about the various different preventative works and frameworks out there suggested as guides for working with these young people. I can recall going through various papers on offending behaviour and anger management with young people caught up in the youth justice system and I don’t know about you but often I’d struggle with these worksheets. I felt it was like trying to give shape to something flat, though maybe it was my inexperience at the time. But I had to get really creative to get the young people to even attempt to do the worksheets, taking into consideration, that at the time I would be working with up to 5 sometimes more ISS young people. So I’d do things like starting my sessions by playing snooker with them, taking them for a gym workout and other things of this nature, this made it a lot easier to go through the worksheets later on with them. Though they would try to give an initial resistance they would still complete the sheets, as they knew they’d been given a fair balance. 

But the thing that I really noticed during this time, is that activities are the way in, but really it comes down to how you engage with them. As in the case of ISS young people you may have to see them up to 25 hours a week. So how you engage with them is vital, as you have the chance in this time to say or do things that get them to think or broaden their horizons on topics they may previously off held only one view to. But to do this it’s like you have to be skilled in walking the tight line of being friend, voice of reason, and enforcer when needs be. 

Excerpt from Jerry: Society's black sheep please click here to buy for just £1.

And this is a real reality of working with young people heavily involved in the streets. The possibility of them being harmed or harming others is very real. I've worked with quite a few young people who are no longer here physically or in jail now for serious crimes. And often I will question myself what could I have done differently, especially when just previously this same young person was getting on so well. I have no answers for this, though I've learned through experience that the traumas these young people faced from young, often comes back to the surface at some point, and if you're not on hand in that moment, or sometimes even when you are, it can still go down hill.

But I don't think it's all doom and gloom, as what I've also seen is how the words that you said to these young people can impact them greatly in later life. You'd be surprised by the amount of people I've known working in various roles in or connected to youth justice who were formerly street people. Where often they'll say things like 'they've taken so much from their communities and so now want to give back to their communities.' Often this manifests as them wanting to help youth who are going through similar things like them.

If you’d like to read the full ebook Jerry - Society's Black Sheep then please click here or on the image below. 

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