Jersey’s Chief Probation Officer has warned that the island needs to think very carefully before making changes to the Parish Hall enquiry system.
The comments from Mike Cutland come after the Children’s Commissioner stated earlier this month that while the system worked for most children, elements of the Youth Justice System needed a rethink for those re-offending.
Pictured: Chief Probation Officer Mike Cutland has said that he would be "very cautious" about altering the Parish Hall enquiry system "for the sake of it."
“I think the Parish Hall Enquiry has a lot to commend – it diverts the vast majority of children very successful from going to court and getting a criminal record,” Mr Cutland said.
“It’s an opportunity for children to think and reflect on what they’ve done and receive a sanction that falls short of a criminal conviction.”
The Parish Hall enquiry is an investigation carried out by Centeniers as an informal alternative to court processing, focusing on offences committed by youths or minor offences committed by adults.
It decides whether the offence can be dealt with through the Parish - meaning there will be no criminal record for the offender, and it will be dealt with through methods such as restorative justice - or be referred to court.
Pictured: A parent whose child was in police custody praised the Parish Hall system in the new report.
The newly published report from Probation and After Care Services noted that “the overwhelming majority of children (92.5%) successfully complete periods of supervision ordered by a Centenier – often with an expectation for the child to engage in a restorative justice process.”
It also contained a testimony from a parent of a child who went through the system, who said: "Restorative Justice and the Parish Hall system is excellent, it came as shock when the Police called me to say that my son was in Police custody.
"The work you have done was an eye opener, it allowed him to think seriously about his future and how he affects the people around him, it changed him in a good way. It made him more aware that his actions bring consequences to his future and he now wants to succeed in sport and in life overall."
In 2020, there were 148 Parish Hall Enquiries across the island, spread between 128 young people - 23 cases (18 children) were remanded to Youth Court and one to the Magistrate’s Court.
Earlier this month, Children’s Commissioner Deborah McMillan stated that following a recorded 282 arrests of youths in 2020 – double that of 2019 - she felt that for a small number of children, the youth justice system needed a rethink to address those who were being repeatedly arrested.
“What we have found with our research to date is that the Parish Hall Enquiry system does not work for all children; it works for most, but then there’s a group of children that it’s not a good diversion,” she said.
Pictured: Though the Children's Commissioner acknowledged that most children were well served by the Parish Hall enquiry, she said for a small amount of children who re-offend, it was not working as a "good diversion."
Discussing the Commissioner’s comments, Mr Cutland acknowledged that “there may be some processes that could be refined,” and that he didn’t “think there's any system that can never be improved.”
On the other hand, he emphasised that “the ethos of the Parish Hall Enquiry, its track record and the care that centeniers show, needs to be retained – I think we would jettison that system at our own peril,” warning that he would be “very cautious about altering something for the sake of it.”
Discussing those children who struggled with the system, Mr Cutland explained that it “can take more time and more intensive help,” aided by other departments and processes, saying that the children the Services most worry about are those on the “margins of society” who feel “hopeless” and “feel they haven’t got much to lose.”
“For every risky anti-social behaviour… it’s more probable they are displaying a parallel level of vulnerability,” he said. "Anti-social behaviour can be a sign for the need for a child to be safeguarded.”
The new report outlines how "an emerging and concerning offending profile is mirrored by their vulnerability and the Service has been working with a range of multi- agency partners to meet the offending and safeguarding needs of this group."
Mr Cutland stated how he felt “the parish hall enquiry can’t be a panacea for all of society’s ills, but overall it is a very effective measure.”
Pictured: A new report from the Jersey Probation and After Care Services states that 92.5% of children successfully complete the supervision period given by a Centenier.
Similarly, from the perspective of those who use the system first-hand, St Saviour Chef De Police Steven Laffoley-Edwards said that the Parish Hall Enquiry was “a vital and unique piece of Jersey legislature.”
“We have this interim stage before things go to court – no other jurisdiction has that, where we can decide if court is the best way of dealing with an offence, or try getting some restorative justice and acting as a divert from the court,” he explained.
In particular, he highlighted the important privacy behind the process, in that “it’s a private thing between the Centenier, probation and their guardian, and in most cases we manage to divert away from court,” in comparison to how most children would end up before a magistrate in the UK.
He added that Centeniers were there on a voluntary basis because they want to help people, and that “if you can persuade someone at an early age that it’s the right thing to do, then they’ll want to do the right thing.”
Looking to the future, Mr Cutland said that the Probation Service would like to see a motoring programme for children who break motor traffic law introduced, as well as “extending our work with other agencies to make sure that all the needs of children are being addressed, particularly mental health needs.”
On that note, he warned that “we still haven’t paid the full price of covid” and that the service was “picking up children and young people with anxiety issues and health issues – eg. poor sleep and hygiene – that are probably linked to some of the anxiety caused by the lockdown – not just individually, but how they see their families affected as well.”
Though there are currently no plans or proposals to alter the system, the Children's Commissioner is currently engaging in a 'Diversion Report,' which looks at alternative ways of diverting young people from crime, as well as listening to children's voices through her 'Child Friendly Justice' research.
Comments on this story express the views of the commentator only, not Bailiwick Publishing. We are unable to guarantee the accuracy of any of those comments.
Once your comment has been submitted, it won’t appear immediately. There is no need to submit it more than once. Comments are published at the discretion of Bailiwick Publishing, and will include your username.