Beyond Youth Custody

Is the justice system retraumatising vulnerable young people?

28 November 2016 | Tagged with the theme:

A new report from Beyond Youth Custody (BYC) states that young people in the criminal justice system have a disproportionate amount of childhood and adolescent trauma – ranging from emotional, physical and sexual abuse, to neglect, bullying, violence, bereavement and abandonment – in their backgrounds, and that this must be identified and responded to effectively.

Previous studies of trauma among groups of young people found that:

  • 91% of violent young offenders have experienced abuse or loss
  • 40% of female and 25% of male young people in custody have suffered violence at home
  • 33% of female offenders have suffered sexual abuse

Research also indicates that offenders are more likely than non-offenders to have suffered adverse effects from traumatic experiences, which appear to be linked to offending behaviour. Trauma can result in inappropriate aggression and is strongly associated with a range of problematic behaviours including violence, antisocial/criminal behaviour, sex offending and substance misuse.

Periods of imprisonment can themselves have a traumatising effect on young people, and can also make existing trauma worse.


BYC’s report recommends that organisations across the children and youth justice sectors look at how they can ensure that:

  • Trauma and mental health concerns are effectively identified in young offenders at the earliest opportunity, with alternatives to custody being provided where appropriate
  • Rehabilitation services include efforts to support young people to develop coping skills and resilience to manage anger and stress
  • Services offer trauma-informed wraparound support which acknowledges and pays attention to the trauma that many young people in the system have already experienced or witnessed (and may continue to l experience during  custody and after release)
  • Increased training for professionals is provided to equip them with the skills to identify trauma in young people, so that appropriate support and guidance can be provided

Also released today:

  • Updated versions of two practitioner’s guides that summarise what is currently known about trauma and its prevalence in the backgrounds of young offenders, and pulls out the key features of trauma-informed approaches to working with custody leavers.
  • A blog from Fran Hughes – Specialist Service Manager at Future 4 Me project, the National Lottery ‘Best voluntary project 2015’ – who identifies top tips for professionals seeking to engage with young people.
  • A case study of iCoN, a clinically-led trauma service that provides one-to-one coaching to young people, and training and support to staff in areas such as adolescent trauma, vicarious trauma principles, engaging young people processes and trauma-informed practice.

Pippa Goodfellow, Beyond Youth Custody Programme Manager, says:

“Young people who have experienced trauma need appropriate support to guide them through the criminal justice system in order to address their offending behaviour and change their lives. Only by ensuring trauma is identified and equipping staff to respond effectively can we ensure the system does not compound the impediments to young people’s chances of moving on from crime.

“With appropriate support and guidance young people with some of the most negative stories of childhood and adolescent trauma can be helped access opportunities and to re-shape their futures.”

Click on the links below to download:

Trauma and young offenders. A review of the research and practice literature

Trauma and young offenders. A review of the research and practice literature: research summary

Developing trauma-informed resettlement for young custody leavers: a practitioner’s guide

Young offenders and trauma: experience and impact: a practitioner’s guide


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Resettlement of young offenders: informing practice, improving outcomes