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On 11-12 July, the European Social Network (ESN) hosted a workshop in Athens where we explored how important it is to prevent youth offending and to integrate young offenders in society. The workshop discussions took into account young offenders’ social, health, education, and employment needs, whilst comparing the different responses of public authorities across Europe.

Why is it crucial to prevent youth offending?

The prevention of youth offending is essential both for the public sector as well as for the individual young person. For the public sector, high costs of care and custody are a current issue. Juha Kuningas and Jonna Laitonen from the Municipality of Hämeenlinna (Finland) showcased that a prison year in Finland costs around €68,000. In light of these figures, preventing young people from ending up in prison or in care homes can give public authorities much needed fiscal relief in times of shrinking budgets. Juha and Jonna elaborated on how their multi-professional team of police officers, youth workers and psychiatric nurses facilitates prevention at an early stage.

For the young person themself, it is their troubled life with unstable social relationships that often leads to offending behaviour. To reduce offending, reliable relationships are crucial in this context and social services can assist in establishing these relationships. Laura Campbell from the Brighton and Hove City Council highlighted the value of trust and argued that a positive and constructive relationship between professionals, the young person, and the family is key when working with young people.

Why is integration of young offenders in society important?

Often, young offenders experience social exclusion and may have limited participation in society. Particularly in the fields of education, employment and health, young offenders face multiple disadvantages. Breaking the cycle of disadvantage stops young offenders from falling back into ‘old habits’ and offers them a path to full participation in society.

Progressing in education is problematic for many young offenders, as they often suffer from the consequences of low educational attainment and learning difficulties. Jorge Tio from the Support Programme in Mental Health for Young Offenders in Catalonia (Spain) pointed to regional data showing that 70% percent of the participants in his support programme dropped out of secondary school between the ages of 12 and 16.

Low educational attainment further impedes young offenders’ professional development, as they experience skill gaps and discrimination in the labour market. Anna-Lena Andersson from the Municipality of Kalix (Sweden) explained their approach to prepare young offenders for employment when they are at homes. In the transition, she explained how internships based on the young person’s interests provide them with opportunities to demonstrate their skills and develop aspirations. Anna-Lena explained that committed internship supervisors from private companies often show potential as role models and provide both guidance in the workplace and orientation in life. She also raised the uncomfortable truth that this group of young people still faces relapse rates of up to 80 per cent.

Prevention and integration are both fundamental for youth offending. However, the public sector finds itself caught between a rock and a hard place. While the public sector needs to cope with the high costs of care and custody, it also needs to invest simultaneously in targeted cooperation between services. High reoffending rates continue to raise the question about which are the most effective responses. In conclusion, it emerged that cooperation between social services, health, education, and employment is a vital ingredient for any recipe against youth offending.

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