Norwich youngster advises Archbishop of York
A resident of YMCA Norfolk's hostel in Norwich has advised the Archbishop of York on how the criminal justice system can serve young people together.
Young people from YMCA Norfolk were in London on June 12 to attend a special YMCA Youth Justice Seminar at Lambeth Palace, hosted by The Archbishop of York, the Rt. Rev John Sentamu, President of the YMCA.
The seminar brought together influential figures from the criminal justice system and young people, who shared their personal experiences and their views on how the system could be reformed and better serve the needs of young people who pass through it.
John Richardson, a resident of the YMCA hostel in Norwich, found the experience of talking with movers and shakers in the criminal justice system and meeting the Archbishop of York a positive one.
He said, “Not many people get the chance to tell their story and have people listen to them and understand what people of my age are going through. I hope my experience will change people’s opinions and views on offenders and the homeless.
“Not all of us commit crime because we want to, it’s because we have to, to get by in life. It’s easy for people to judge, but I would like them to place themselves in my life and position and see what would happen to them.”
John was also able to share how the YMCA has helped him to get his life back on track. John said: "I came to the YMCA hostel a year ago. Within a week I had accommodation and was on the way to solving my severe heroin addiction. YMCA support staff told me where to get help. I went to The Bure Centre and The Matthew Project.
“I couldn’t have got through this ordeal without the full support of the YMCA. I have always been listened to by YMCA support staff and fully supported in all my plans to return to independent living. My family has also stood by me. Not all young people get this and I feel very fortunate to have their help as well as from the YMCA"
The Rt Revd John Sentamu, Archbishop of York said: “Hearing the stories that these young people tell about themselves, I know there is hope for them. We need to give these young people - and others like them – more opportunity to talk, to contribute and to belong to a future that offers them more stability than they have experienced in the past. We need a system that will support their development for the future more than punish their past offences.”
He added: “The greatest experts when dealing with young people are the young people themselves. Young people must be at the centre of our understanding so that the system can become more responsive to their needs.”
Angela Sarkis, YMCA England National Secretary
, was also at the seminar to listen to the views of the young people present. She said: "We work with vulnerable young people whilst they are in prison and support them upon their release. Our programmes pay attention to young people as adolescents and have proved very effective in teaching ex-offenders life skills, and helping them to find work and a place to stay.
"We hope that by bringing young ex-offenders and policy makers together, and by treating both as experts, this will make renewed calls for change within the youth justice system and that new ways are found to address the 'problem' behaviour of some young people."
The YMCA is committed to ensuring more attention is given to the personal and social development opportunities available to young people whilst in custody so that when they leave, they are able to make a valuable contribution to their local communities and wider society. It also wants to encourage the Government to give special attention to young people aged-between 16-25, just as the Youth Justice Board does for those 18 and under.To see a more detailed report on the seminar click here
Pictured top is the Archbishop of York, the Rt. Rev John Sentamu, with YMCA residents including John Richardson (far left, back row) at The Archbishop’s Youth Justice Seminar held at Lambeth Palace.
John Richardson with YMCA England National Secretary Angela Sarkis.