3.1 A case study: Gina
Consider the following fictional case study.
‘Gina’ is a 15 year old girl who has been sentenced for a first offence. The offence was quite serious and arose from Gina’s involvement in a robbery. Another young woman’s mobile phone was taken from her in the street and passed to Gina by the ‘robbers’ as they quickly disappeared into the neighbourhood streets on mopeds. Gina was seen by a witness to receive the phone as part of a planned and co-ordinated crime.
Gina was arrested and subsequently found guilty of the offence but refused to help the police identify the others involved. As part of her sentence she was required to make reparations ‘to the community’ but has missed several appointments with the organisation delivering community project work. She didn’t like the manager of the project and felt she was being picked on. After some unsuccessful attempts to secure better compliance with the court-ordered reparation work, Gina has been taken back to court by the Youth Offending Team (YOT) because they are obliged by the law to do so if they cannot secure compliance with the order.
The court report prepared by the local YOT worker highlights Gina’s vulnerability in the community where some of her peers suspect she has cooperated with the police or is likely to in the future. Gina fears this all the more if she is seen to be complying with her court order. Her peers and friends in the neighbourhood worry that she is coming under pressure to provide the police with information about some young men who have been arrested in connection with other phone thefts in the area.
With Gina in the youth court again, despite not having committed another offence, the magistrate wants to change the conditions of her sentence by imposing an ‘intensive supervision and surveillance’ requirement (ISS), the most demanding intervention requirement available for young people on community sentences. It is the magistrate’s belief that a more intensive order is necessary due to Gina’s vulnerability, to help protect her from drifting into more troubled relationships in her neighbourhood.
The YOT worker argued in court that this was inappropriate and would increase the chances of Gina breaching her order because her behaviour will be more strictly monitored. The magistrate insists his more intensive order is intended to deliver support to Gina, not to punish her more severely.
Activity 5 Do the right thing
Is the magistrate doing the right thing by insisting on the intensive supervision and surveillance order? Use the boxes below to develop the scenario in two directions.
- Yes, the magistrate is doing the right thing because:
- No, the magistrate is not doing the right thing because:
The case study is fictional but based on reality. Magistrates are often motivated by good intentions but the research evidence suggests that drawing young people further into the youth justice system often has unintended consequences. The magistrate may feel that because Gina is a young woman on the periphery of gangs where young men are dominant, she is vulnerable and needs protection. On the other hand, if ‘she’ were a ‘he’ the magistrate might read non-compliance as defiance, or rebellion. These gender stereotypes can have subtle but impactful effects. In both instances, the court outcome might be the same – an intensive supervision and surveillance requirement, but research evidence suggests that young women are offered fewer ‘chances’ than young men and progress more quickly up the sentencing tariff (PRT, 2017).
With tighter supervision, more appointments to keep and less flexible rules about compliance, it is possible that Gina will find a way to complete the court order successfully. Her support worker may strike up a positive relationship with her and help her find constructive friendships and better ways of dealing with peer pressure.
However, if Gina struggles to make the changes quickly, she will find herself back in court for non-compliance. Maybe she will be given another chance. Maybe not. What if there have been some high-profile ugly incidents reported in the local news? Another magistrate may decide an even more serious intervention is needed and, as a last resort, impose a custodial sentence because of what she or he regards as Gina’s wilful refusal to comply with the court order.
The research evidence reviewed by Bateman and Hazel (2017) and the Prison Reform Trust (2017) points to this kind of scenario happening a lot. Gina, with one crime to her name, could end up being locked up, removed from her friends, family and neighbourhood and pressed into the repetitive cycles of the criminal justice system as an unwanted result of the magistrate’s good intentions. The Lammy Review (2017), which you will learn about more in Session 6, indicates that if Gina has a black or minority ethnic heritage, this is even more likely.
Activity 6 From courts to custody
In 2016, the All Party Parliamentary Group on Women in the Penal System produced a report called. Questions relating to the ten ‘key points’ from their report are given below. Select the correct words from the drop-down menus to answer the questions.
The report’s key points indicate how the youth justice system is failing girls and young women, even when it tries to do its best. It also suggests that it is being slow to respond to evidence and proposals that could make things better for girls and young women.