A pilot scheme tackling the root causes of youth offending is taking place in East and Mid Devon, and in Exeter.

Devon and Cornwall Police are holding ‘intervention clinics’ to nip problem behaviour in the bud. Young first-time offenders receive one-to-one sessions, often in their own homes, with specialist officers in plain clothes who listen to them, consider the possible reasons for their behaviour, and refer them to various support organisations.

The police and partner agencies have also identified several risk factors that can lead to youth offending, and are taking steps to prevent it.

The aim is to keep young people out of the criminal justice system, using a 'child first, offender second' approach. 

Researchers from Exeter University are working with the policing team to assess the effectiveness of the scheme. They have praised the enthusiasm, commitment and expertise of the officers involved, and described the intervention clinics as 'a leap forward in terms of dealing with young offenders'.

Inspector Lee Groves, who is overseeing the work, said: “By putting in place timely, child-centred support, we can address the causes which may lead a young person to become involved in criminal behaviour and keep them out of the youth criminal justice system.

“So far this work has increased the quality of intervention we have been able to put in place, gives specialist officers time to foster positive encounters with youth offenders, and has improved multiagency collaboration at these critical moments.

“What we want to do is to address the root causes of the behaviour and prevent re-offending. We know acting quickly is critical. Our early results are positive.”

Education experts from Exeter University have been evaluating the intervention clinics and looingk at how successful they are in changing young people’s behaviour.

Their research shows young people who are dealt with through the clinics develop a positive view of the police and are more likely to engage with them.

One of the team is Dr Thomas Ralph, a former teacher who now leads research into the causes of youth crime and the impact of timely interventions.

Dr Ralph said: “We are pleased to support this very important work which is helping to support young people and divert them from reoffending. Devon and Cornwall Police are working hard to put in place a system to meaningfully engage with young offenders earlier and help them to more easily assess children at risk of offending and refer them for support. The University of Exeter research will also identify any training needed by police officers and how they can work with external support services.”