TRU is a digital platform that sits within youth custody institutions and is accessible at the key moments in a young person’s journey through the system.
Students involved
Pinja Piipponen
Beatrice Mandelstam
Alessandro Paone
Cristina Mogollón García
Ministry of Justice
A Cross-Government Approach to Supporting Young People in the Criminal Justice System
Working with the emerging Secure Schools, design a holistic, end-to-end service that considers the entire scope of needs of young people in custody. By supporting and rehabilitating young people, ensure that multiple government departments meet young people’s needs and work together to deliver a robust, holistic set of services.

TRU has been designed for both prison officers and the young people in their care. It acts as an enabler in building mutual respect and trust by humanising interactions that reveal the person beyond the label. The platform also allows the Ministry of Justice to collect valuable data that can be shared across government departments and support services, such as the NHS and Department for Education. This shared knowledge will strengthen and create consistency throughout the support young people receive whilst in the system, helping to break the cycle of reoffending.


TRU was developed for the main actors in the system, the young people within it, the frontline staff that support them and finally the government that defines the environment and framework that these people exist and work in. We focused on young people aged between 12 to 18, in line with a new youth justice policy, the Secure School, an alternative to traditional custody establishments with education at its heart. These young people typically have complex backgrounds, lower social and emotional skills, find it difficult to form positive relationships and once in the system, they are likely to fall into a cycle of reoffending. We identified Youth Custody Officers as having the most contact with young people in custody and therefore the biggest impact on their rehabilitation journey. Officers feel unsupported by a government imposed framework that is focused more on punishment due to societal pressure to appear harsh on criminal behaviour.


Despite a 73% drop in the number of children in custody, conditions inside youth prisons are decreasing with rising levels of assaults (an increase of 30%) and self-harm (an increase of 40%). 41% of released young people end up reoffending within a year, a clear sign that the current system isn’t able to rehabilitate them back to society. Young people in the system experience a lack of understanding of their situation now and the future. They have to repeat their backgrounds multiple times and feel as though they have to ask to get support. The majority of Youth Custody Officers, on average, remain in the system for only 2 years, even the most empathetic choose to leave, losing the belief that young people can ever rehabilitate. Officers aren’t equipped with the appropriate skills, they don’t have enough time and there is a shortage of staff. A young person’s experience is dependent on their encounters with Youth Custody Officers and TRU is a tool that aims to strong arm this and help form strong and positive relationships.


TRU’s digital platform will enable the development of positive relationships between staff and young people within the system, however, a new framework and recruitment policy is needed to support its success. Our long term vision is the redefining of a new permanent role that will replace the existing Youth Custody Officer, the Youth Support Worker. Highly skilled, better paid and committed to the job, they will be best placed, with the help of TRU, to guide the young people in custody through their rehabilitation journey. The Youth Support Worker will work closely with individuals in their care, providing support in the form 1-1 sessions, accessing positive reinforcement activities and connecting key people in the young person’s rehabilitation journey.

special thanks:
The User Centred Policy Design team at the Ministry of Justice And only a handful of the organisations and people that generously took part in our project: Youth Justice Board, Youth Custody Service, Youth Offending Team workers, Social workers, Young Advisors of Leaders Unlocked, Graduates from InHouse Records, Unlocked Prison Officers, Ministry of Justice, Department for International Trade
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