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Looking At The Youth Justice System In England Criminology Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Criminology
Wordcount: 3171 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Throughout the course of the Youth Justice System in the British Isles, there have been incidences when it seemed that the rehabilitation of the offender wasn’t of importance but rather their punishment. It has taken a very long time for the YJ system to reach its current level today, and this has taken roughly 200 years to establish. This has taken so long because there never used to be a Justice System that dealt specifically with young offenders. In this assignment I am going to be looking at the measures of dealing with young offenders that were used in the past and how these have evolved over time. I am also going to be looking at different acts of legislation that were passed to help institute the YJ system whilst also looking at the systems in other countries.

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The current Youth Justice Board came into being after the 1998 Crime and Disorder Act 1998 was passed with the primary aim of the board being to ‘prevent offending and re-offending of young people.’ (Home Office 2009). As mentioned above the YJB did not exist before the CDA 1998 so I am going to look at the history that led to its birth. In the 1800’s the distinction between adults and children was non-existent when it came to punishment for crimes committed. Forms of punishment included being outlawed or transported aboard e.g. to Australia, public humiliation by being whipped or placed in stocks for everyone to see, and in some cases hanging was used.

As a result of this people spoke out against this as they believed this was too severe for children. Reformers such as Mary Carpenter advocated for education rather than prison, and education became free and compulsory for those aged 16 and below. This introduced the battle between welfare and justice as Carpenter believed that ‘treatment should be founded on the love of the child’

The 1854 Youthful Offenders Act was the first law that distinguished children from adults. This meant that children who committed crimes were no longer sent to prison but rather to reformatory schools as Carpenter, highlighted the need for better conditions for children. At these schools the children were given shelter, food and basic training for skills e.g. sowing. Although the intention of these schools appeared to have the best interests of the child, children were beaten to enforce authority ‘Reformatory Schools were set up for offenders under 16 years old. These were very tough places, with stiff discipline enforced by frequent beatings.’ (The National Archives 2010: Online). Sending children to these schools ultimately excluded them from society and from their friends and family children were getting. Carpenter believed that is was the miss-management of low moral conditions of the parents rather than poverty that resulted in juvenile crime, hence why some might see this schools as taking away the parental responsibility of those seen as ‘unfit’ parents.

Industrial Schools were set up to help vulnerable children and those who posed the highest or greatest risk of offending. The 1857 Industrial Schools Act introduced better provision for children in areas of care and education. This was fundamentally important because it helped provide for children who were destitute and vagrant. ‘The clear distinction between Industrial Schools and Reformatories was that the children sent to Industrial schools were destitute and those sent to Reformatories were juvenile offenders.’ (Hidden Lives 2010: Online).

However it is sad to note that some children died in these schools as a result of the manual labour that they did and that Industrial schools didn’t hesitate to make children do hard work if it was profitable for the organisation.

The growing public concern about adolescence and the link with juvenile crime paved way for the changes in legislation in regards to the legal position of young people. In 1907 the Probation Service was introduced and a year later the 1908 Prevention of Crime Act established Juvenile Courts and Borstal Institutions. This Act also gave local authorities the powers to keep poor children out of workhouses. Borstals were now viewed as the equivalent of prison, created solely for young offenders.

‘The primary aim underpinning this legislation was that juveniles were less responsible than adults for their actions and should not be subject to the full majesty of the law’ (Muncie 2002)

Although this piece of legislation finally distinguished a child from an adult it showed that the problem of juvenile delinquents was likely to increase in the future.

However in borstals, the length of the sentence wasn’t passed in regards to the gravity of the offence but rather was ‘fixed by legislation, two years as minimum and three years as maximum’ (Encyclopaedia 2009: Online) It is evident that at this moment in the history of the youth justice system justice was deemed more important than welfare. However the Criminal Justice Act 1982 completely abolished the borstal system and introduced Youth Custody centres The 1933 Children & Young Persons Act began to look at ways of introducing more welfare in the way that young offenders were dealt with. The introduction of social workers who worked closely with offenders helped to establish what children’s needs were and the reasons why they offend. Section 44 of the act stated that ‘proper steps should be taken to remove the offender from undesirable surroundings and for securing that proper provision is made for education and training’ (Muncie 2002). Shortly after the Act was passed detention centres were introduced and regardless of the apparent welfare focus that the act had brought, there was an increased likelihood of prosecution. With WWII approaching youth offending began to rise as resources were depleting and the rationing of food and basic necessities didn’t provide for peoples their needs. This could be in the form of pick pocketing, stealing in gangs or breaking into people homes.

The 1948 Criminal Justice Act which abolished Corporal punishment. The act introduced the concept of imprisonment depending on the severity of the crime and whether or not the offender had a previous criminal record. Around this time moral panic began to take a hold of the nation as people began viewing young people as delinquents causing stigma and negative stereo-typing of children and young people.

The 1969 Children and Young Persons Act introduced two key concepts when working with young offenders, these being control and care. The importance of the welfare of the child was really taken into consideration and the legal system began to consider both justice and welfare when sentencing a child. This act also entrusted local authorities to work with young offenders in a dignified manner e.g. Chapter 54 of the act states, ‘Where a person is remanded to local authority accommodation and a security requirement is imposed in respect of him’ (OPSI 2010).

A change in government from Labour to the Conservative Party in the 70’s brought about change in the way that the government intended to deal with youth crime. When Margaret Thatcher was elected in 1979 she called for a return to ‘Victorian values in order to re- establish a sense of discipline, decency, morality and responsibility while reversing the tide of family disintegration’. (Dennis 1993). The Conservative government was setting the agenda around dealing with law and order, welfare and immorality. In the past, responsibility was being taken away from parents e.g. during the establishment of reformatory schools were the children of ‘unfit’ parents were being taken away. However Thatcher intended to move social responsibility back to the individual and morality back to the family (Brake & Hale 1992). Thatcher wanted emphasis on cautions rather than major intervention from the government when dealing with families of juvenile offenders.

The 1933 Children’s Act established that courts should have a ‘primary regard to the welfare of the child’ (Muncie 2002), and this view was strengthened by the 1989 Children’s Act stipulation that a child’s welfare should be paramount. The Criminal Justice Act 1991 introduced a new sentence, curfew orders for offenders aged 16 and over. ‘These orders required an offender to stay at specific place for specified periods of between 2 and 12 hours per day for up to six months’. (Muncie 2002) In 1993 the two high profile murders of Jamie Bulger aged only 2 and Stephen Lawrence aged 18 caused great debate. The age of criminal responsibility was reduced from 10 to 8 as the murderers of Bulger, Robert Thompson and John Venables were 10 years old. An inquiry into the death of Stephen Lawrence showed his murder was racially motivated and that the Crown Prosecution Service and Metropolitan police who handled the case were institutionally racist, bringing about big changes in the legal system of Britain.

The Misspent Youth (Audit Commission 1996) report found that the Youth Justice System was inefficient and not cost effective. It also highlighted how slow the court procedures were. Furthermore it showed how very little was being done to prevent offending and re-offending, and that government agencies were not working together, and to eradicate this problem suggestions were made that the central government should be more involved. This shows a direct contrast with the policies that were introduced by Margaret Thatcher, ‘less intervention from the government and more responsibility passed on to families’ (Brake & Hale 1992).

The Crime & Disorder Act 1998 introduced the current Youth Justice Board with the primary aim of all interventions in Youth Justice being to prevent offending and re-offending by children and Young People (CDA 1998). Section 39 of the Act introduced Youth Offending Teams, commonly referred to as (YOT’s) which by law had to have a probation officer, health worker, housing officer and social worker. In doing this the government was trying to encourage professional bodies to start working together and to share information about offenders. This was outlined by Section 115 ‘which established the power to disclose information between crime and disorder partners, so long as such disclosure is necessary or expedient for the purposes of the Act’ i.e. to prevent and reduce crime and increase community safety) (Copeland 2006) The Crime And Disorder Act also introduced Parenting Orders, ASBO’s and Sex offenders Orders. The Act also set out six objectives that are referred to as the National Standards of the YJB.

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The 1st objective is the swift administration of justice which requires all agencies within the YJB to work as fast and as efficiently as possible, this also applies to the courts that are required to deal with cases promptly. The 2nd objective is to show young people the consequences of their actions and trying to help them to have a sense of responsibility, which would hopefully dissuade them from continuing to offend.

The 3rd objective is all about intervention- trying to establish the reasons why a child or young person offends. This is established by looking at the three domains of risk, ‘risk of serious harm, risk of re-offending and vulnerability to the offender (YJB 2010) To help counter these risk factors, there are protective factors that have to be put in place, which include ‘social bonding with the family and or friends, opportunities, skills and recognition (pg 10 Stephenson 2007) Help is then provided to the young person based on the needs that have been identified.

The 4th objective looks at dealing the punishment appropriate to the crime. It is also suggested that the persistent offenders should therefore receive tougher sentences to reduce the likelihood of them re-offending.

The 5th objective is about reparation to the victim, whether it is an individual person or the community, which also gives the wronged parties that chance to be involved in Youth Justice. Offenders are given an opportunity to apologise to their victims and the victim under supervision has the right to interact with the offender to make them see the results of their offending behaviour.

The 6th objective focuses on re-establishing the responsibilities of parents in regards to the behaviour of their children as poor parenting is a significant risk factor that could result in a child offending. Help is given to parents that need it under the provisions in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998.

The YJB has many organisations within it that help to meet its aims and objectives. These organisations are overseen by the YJB to make sure that the primary aim of reducing offending and reoffending by children and young people is met. The Home Office sponsors the YJB, and appoints a panel of twelve members who then give advice on matters about youth crime. The panel then delegates responsibility to regional teams; YOT’s with stipulation that they should work with five statutory partner’s e.g. the police, Local authorities, health authorities etc. There are currently 155 YOT’s that cover England and Wales and each team has a regional manager that they are accountable to.

Each regional manager has the responsibility of overseeing the work that is carried out by the YOT’s of their respective region. The manager also has the responsibility of reviewing areas that aren’t performing to the standard required by Youth Justice National Standards, and reporting back to the YJB. Some of the roles expected of a YOT include preparing pre-sentence reports, provide mentoring programmes, and provide necessary legal advice to an offender in regards to the help they can get from the YOT during court procedures.

Apart from the requirement of a YOT working with the five statutory bodies, some agencies voluntarily assist them in their work. These include the Connexions Service, Princes Trust, and Education Welfare Services. The YJB annually inspects the performance of all YOT’s by reviewing the ASSET profile cases using the national standards objectives on the YJB. Praise is given were due and recommendations are made that have to be achieved by the following year. The purpose of the inspection is to encourage effective and efficient practice within the field of Youth Justice. The tool, ‘The Scaled Approach involves ‘tailoring the intensity of intervention to the assessment of risk’ (YJB 2009). It is intended to enable youth workers to ‘make better use of their time and resources through the strategic and consistent utilization of Asset Risk assessment scores.’ (YJB Handbook 2010) An example of the elements of effective practice includes, Mental Health Services, Substance Misuse, Parenting and Restorative Justice’.

The way that countries deal with young offenders is always different. Some measures used with young offenders could be restorative and justice focused while others could be quite punitive. Crime tolerance varies with each country and I am going to be looking at the different ways that other countries deal with their young offenders and comparing this with what is done in England and Wales. Our closest neighbour Scotland has their age of criminal responsibility raised from 10 to 12. Most mainland European countries have their age of criminal responsibility higher than England and Wales age of 10 as they set their ages between 14, 15, and 16 or, in some cases, at 18. To name a few, the age of criminal responsibility in Japan, Belgium and Spain is 16, highlighting the point that young people are dealt with using non-punitive usually welfare based measures as punishment for offences. There are states in American that have responsibility as low as 6, which applies to North Carolina while the age of just 7 applies to other states such as Massachusetts and New York which shows that these among other states have very punitive laws.

In Belgium there is a bar that has the sole purpose of prosecuting children under the age of 16, and children are dealt with by welfare services. In England & Wales, young offenders are dealt with by the YJS, while incorporating restorative justice. The CDA 1998 replaced the use of police cautioning with use of final warnings and reprimands. In France young people who commit criminal offences would be subject to measures of protection, supervision and education, with criminal sanctions being used as a last resort. England has introduced a reparation system which allows the victim of an attack to have direct or indirect contact with an offender to help them get closure about the attack against them. This system is also used in Finland but named mediation. This is believed to help young people to take responsibility for their actions and offenders can try and make amends by apologising in person in the presence of a panel or by form of a letter. The Criminal Evidence Act 1999 introduced referral orders and youth offending panels with referral orders being a standard mandatory sentence imposed on nearly all offenders. The Youth Justice System has targeted offenders and non offenders by using preventative measures to try and reduce offending.

The publication of the Every Child Matters 2004 and the updated Youth Matters (DfES 2005) aims has helped to make the youth offending service in England and Wales more welfare based. ‘These policies are designed to take full account of the views of young people’ (pg 55 YJB Handbook). The aims of ECM being to be healthy, enjoy and achieve, stay safe achieve economic well being and make a positive contribution shows that the Government has realised that we should, ‘build services around children and young people so that we can maximize opportunities and minimize risk’ (DfES 2004). Recent changes that have been brought by the Criminal Justice & Immigration Act 2008 include the introduction of Youth Rehabilitation Orders with the focus being on individual risk and needs. The aim is to provide adequate intervention according to the level of risk posed by a person or young child.

The Scaled Approach mentioned above is aimed to make a change in the way that YOT’s practice and is intended to work with the Rehabilitation Order. It is fair to conclude then that intervention is more effective when its intensity is based on the assessment of a young person’s likelihood to offend. I believe that the current Youth offending service is doing quite well and that if measures like those above are continued to be introduced the service can continue to improve.


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