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Offence Referrals to the CHS

The number of young people referred to the CHS on offence grounds has fallen dramatically over the last decade, as shown in Fig. 18.1. The recent figures mask some earlier fluctuations, however. From the mid-1990s to 2002/3, the number of referrals remained relatively stable at around 14,500 per year; however, between 2002/03 and 2005/6 there was an 18 % increase in the number of children referred on offence grounds which accounts for the high levels at the start of Fig. 18.1. This coincided with the punitive phase of Scottish juvenile justice policy, described earlier, where a set of misguided performance targets were introduced, aimed at reducing the number of persistent young offenders by 10 %. However, the extent of the police focus on so-called at-risk youths served to drive up the number of offence referrals to the CHS instead (see McAra and McVie 2010).

By 2006/7, the politically-driven targets had been abandoned and the numbers referred to the CHS on offence grounds began to fall, and have continued to do so annually ever since. In fact, there has been an 84 %> reduction in the number of children referred to the Reporter on offence grounds between 2005/6 and 2013/14.5

It seems likely that the dramatic fall in offence referrals to the CHS is largely an artefact of wider changes in the procedures for dealing with juvenile offenders. Following its introduction as a pilot initiative in 2008/9, the number of young people being referred for Early and Effective Intervention (EEI) rose to 650 by 2011/12. Following national implementation in 2011, EEI referrals quadrupled to 2637 by 2013/14 as use of the practice became commonplace (Scottish Government 2016). This increase may, of course, be due to better recording of EEI since its introduction; however, it is certain that it accounts for at least some of the reduction in CHS offence referrals and police restorative warnings. It is worth noting, however, that WSA involves a great many other juvenile justice interventions that are not being accurately measured, so the picture in Scotland is rather unclear at the present time.

The combination of extensive system change and the absence of repeated selfreport survey data in Scotland makes it impossible to determine whether there has been any actual fall in offending by young people over the last decade. However, repeated cross-sectional survey data on substance use indicates a large and significant drop in other forms of risky behaviour over this period. For example, recent findings from the Scottish Schools Adolescent Lifestyle and Substance Use Survey (SALSUS) reported significant reductions in smoking, drinking and drug use amongst 13- and 15-year-old boys and girls, bringing levels of all three forms of substance use to their lowest recorded levels (NHS 2014). If substance use is assumed to follow a similar trend to certain forms of offending, this would suggest that there has been a real drop in juvenile crime in the last decade. It is regrettable that data were not collected on juvenile offending over the same period as the SALSUS survey, which began in 1982.

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