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When working within the field of Youth Justice there are several types of people that a worker would interact with on a regular basis. To assist a worker with this there are several equal opportunities legislation that have been introduced to make sure that every offender is treated fairly regardless of their ethnicity, class, gender, sexual orientation etc. In this assignment I am going to be looking at the most important legislation and how implementing the different Acts can assist workers to try and decrease the cases of Anti-social behaviour, and to make sure that offenders are provided with the utmost help that they need.
To begin with, we have to look at some of the key terms that are used in regards to fair treatment and unfair treatment. For example equal opportunity is a much used term that isn't really understood. In its rounded form is it is the principles of non - discrimination which emphasise that opportunities in education, employment, resource distribution and other areas, should be freely available to every citizen regardless of factors such as race, ethnicity religion etc. (Bus Dict). In contrast terms such as oppression and discrimination highlight the total opposite of equal opportunities. Oppression is the exercise of power in a cruel and unjust manner, whereas discrimination is to treat unfairly without a valid reason (NTU Slides)
There are so many Acts that have been introduced to try and reduce discrimination, so I am going to look at the relevant pieces of legislation and their intent in relation to youth justice. To begin with the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 sets out to help those that have been convicted of a crime and have since lived on the right side of the law- this means that if the person is released and isn't re-convicted during the 'rehabilitation period' they are entitled to receive help from relevant Government agencies. The Sexual Discrimination Act 1975 which applies to male and females makes it illegal for a person to be denied opportunities or resources because of their gender. For example a female in the Youth Justice System might not be given all the help she needs as 82% of offenders are male while in comparison only 18% are female (YJB).
The amended Race Relations Act 2000 prompted by the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry placed a duty on Public authorities to promote good relationships between persons of different racial groups and to eliminate unlawful racial discrimination. The debate about social profiling comes about as a result of the 'stop and search' method, 'Nationally, black people are still stopped and searched at least seven times the rate of white people, whilst Asians are twice as likely' (BBC News 2008). The 1996 Misspent Youth which isn't legislation but part of an audit commission claimed that a 'quarter of all crime was committed by youth and that youth crime cost the public £1billion per annum' (YJ Handbook pg 75). It also looked at the three ways that finances and resources could be better used. Firstly identifying offenders, second how to deal with them whether guilty or not, and finally the attempt to prevent or reduce offending by young people. Ironically although the document was meant to help it permitted progressive practice which led to re-criminalisation, massive system expansion and increasing levels of incarceration of younger people for relatively less serious offences. (YJ Handbook)
The Misspent Youth Audit Commission paved the way for the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 which introduced ASBO's, Sex Offender orders, Parenting orders, more powers for local authorities when dealing with crime and disorder and powers to deal with racially aggravated offences. (Home Office) It also abolished rebuttal presumption that a Child, those under the age of 14 is 'Doli incapax', incapable of committing crime.
The audit commission report (Jan 2004) was a review of the reformed Youth Justice system and looked at the changes that had been introduced by the 1996 Misspent audit. It highlighted the benefits that had been made and look at ways of further improving the current youth justice system e.g. suggesting that courts focus more on serious and persistent offenders, how to make sentencing more cost effective and to improve what happens in court.
Regardless of the measures that were introduced by all these acts and reports it seems that discrimination within the youth justice system still occurs and doesn't seem to be decreasing. An independent report (Diversity Research) found that black and minority ethnic youngsters are still over-represented in the youth justice system. While there was a slight variation on influences of crime such as gender or ethnicity the differences in treatment did indicate discriminatory treatment at several stages whilst the offenders were in the youth justice system process.
Key findings included the higher rate of conviction and prosecution of mixed race young males, higher proportion of prosecutions involving black young males, the slightly greater use of custody for Asian male's etc. The report also showed that some of those who had been remanded in custody prior to sentencing were not actually convicted which could indicate a form of discrimination on the grounds of race. To try and reduce these shocking finding the Chair of the Youth Justice Board argued that more should be done to ensure equal treatment for those who come into contact with the law and that guidance and support should be offered to youth offending teams to assist them in working effectively with minority ethnic groups.
Discrimination and oppression are linked in very subtle way as both come about as a result of power over an individual or even a group of people. Although linked, oppression involves a wider set of processes, social, economic and political. Steven Luke's formulated a three dimensional model in relation to power that went further than who has the power and how they use it. The 1st dimension takes the form of subjective interest such as policy preferences, the 2nd is a critique on behaviour that focuses on decision/non decision making and the third look at the political agenda connected with a person's actions. (NTU Slides) The focus here is how professionals use the power that they and for what reason, and also looking at what can be done to improve a situation instead of just standing by the sidelines. This applies to Youth Justice as those with greater levels of authority can exercise their powers to help tackle the problem of discrimination and oppression that is experienced by offenders at various stages within the Youth Justice System.
The greater problems that are created by discrimination and oppression are quite difficult to solve and I am going to be looking at key issues that have always generated heated debate. In terms of social exclusion black youths have experienced this in education 'as schools have failed to develop curricula which are non - ethnocentric' (Muncie 1999). Cultural differences are then misinterpreted as educational difficulties resulting in the inevitable high rates of school exclusion. 'Also, for black youth, racism and harassment are daily facts of life' (Guardian 23 July 1996). The problem that this creates is that the person would feel subjected and isolated from society giving them the burden of exclusion which would leave them with no choice but to commit crime as their life opportunities are slowly taken away. Lea and Young (1984) contend that 'the relative deprivation of young Afro-Caribbean's does lead to more crime'. The image that is then created is that of a black criminal which could create moral panic among other serious problems, creating unnecessary fear in the lives of the general populace.
The impact that this would have on the Youth Justice System could be very negative as young offenders may not want to co-operate with them because they feel that involving agencies would make things even worse. This could again spur the debate about institutional racism that has been a factor that has plagued the justice system for a very long time. Offenders might even want to commit more crimes to 'get back' at the system of injustice that they would have undoubtedly experienced and this wouldn't help as one of the key aims of the Youth Justice System is to reduce offending by young people. Discrimination always creates a lot more problems than people imagine and the situation can only start to be resolved if people are taught the right principles before they even start working with young offenders. It is imperative that every worker knows that every offender should be treated with respect and that their human rights should never be compromised regardless of their race, social class, gender, sexual orientation etc. In this way and only in this way can the justice system move on from this problem and start to look at better ways to deal with offending instead of always having to suffer the dire consequences of discrimination.