Reviewing The Understanding Of Youth Justice Criminology Essay

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We entered the 21st century with concerns about rowdy and anti-social youth. Moving towards the end of the decade, communities are panicking about youth weapon carrying and violence. Crime and disorder policies have been hotly debated in the UK recently - problems spring up quickly, action is demanded and very soon a government initiative is launched.

Soon after entering government, Labour embarked on a 'root and branch reform' of youth justice 'to prevent offending' and tackle what it described as the emergence of 'an excuse culture' (Home Office, 1997). The 1998 Crime and Disorder Act established a new youth justice system with youth offending teams and a Youth Justice Board.

Since then, spending has substantially increased and a comprehensive reform programme has been delivered. Youth and crime can only be understood within a broad socio-political context. It should be approached historically in relation to:

societal change

concern with order and delinquent youth

and Age (Hendrick 2006)

By late 1980s and 1990s notions of community empowerment became increasingly central in political language. Amitai Etzioni's (1994) thesis on morality, crime and community taken on board and considered to be the best way for a society to function and help itself. It featured many of his written ideas and focused mainly on:

an emphasis on one moral community

a call for the return of the 'traditional family'

However it was not without it Critiques as it was branded 'American' and 'folksy' (Kelly 1995:21) but yet it was decided that moral Communitarianism appeals to the UK.

The overhaul of the youth justice system has set out to tackle this in three ways:

Prevent youngsters from falling in to crime

Provide the criminal justice system with more sentencing choices

Focus sentencing on preventing repeat offending

Dennis's (1993; 1997) recent work on crime and families is at heart of moral communities who argues loss of discipline and male role model at the heart of social ills in the United Kingdom. In accordance with Etzioni, Dennis accords with the loss of social cohesion and the increase in crime and disorder.

These ideas of 'moral responsibility' were taken on board by Tony Blair and they helped to create the foundations of the Crime & Disorder Act 1998.

Tackling youth offending has been at the heart of the government's criminal justice reforms since it first came to power in 1997. Figures compiled before this time in the general elections showed that approximately 70% of all crimes that affect ordinary people are committed by a small number of young men - almost all of whom began offending in their teens.

When Labour came to power its policies had shown roots in Communitarianism, in such ways that:

The pedigree of this body of ideas has a mixed parentage that dates back to Aristotelian notions of civic republicanism

Communitarian societies are densely enmeshed in interdependencies (Braithwaite 1989: 1000)

Above all communities are 'seductive' (Hughes 1998)

The reforms began with the 1998 Crime and Disorder Act which set out to change the way the youth justice system worked in England and Wales.

This was quickly followed in April 2000 when a new range of options were introduced in England and Wales which aimed to equip magistrates and the police with the means of making the punishment fit the criminal, rather than just the crime and ensuring community safety.

However Community safety remains a profoundly contested term. At its most prosaic, it is a term that captures the move from single agency crime prevention to shared responsibility (Crawford 1998) however it has broadened the concern with crime prevention per se to cover arrange of harms and fears.

The idea of Youth Justice was founded on the idea of crime prevention. However as noted it has drawn a host of 'other players' into the crime business (Muncie 2009) and the 'preventative turn' has opened up new discourses of risk management and crime control.

At the heart of Labours' thinking is the place of responsibility in crime prevention (O'Malley, 1994). He argues that the discourse of responsibility is located within neo liberal political ideology that has attempted to transform the modern state. He also states that a social solidarity and shared ownership of risk enables consultation with locals and offers empowerment to individuals. Significantly it has been developed around government critiques of over dependence on the states protection (Garland 1996, 2001).

Two logics have come to the fore since the 1980s - these focus on Situational crime prevention. This has stemmed from HORS Crime as Opportunity (Mayhew 1976) and the main reasoning for it happening was because of poor cost effective systems and how unavailable widespread help was. This new focus on situational crime shifted the focus from the social circumstances of the offender to the opportunities available to the said person.

It is based on the idea of changing offending behaviour and promoting social inclusion through community engagement - this also meant having separate agencies working together to reduce crime. This was soon followed by community crime prevention which had first materialised in Five Towns Initiative in 1986.

The potential to involve non criminal justice agencies in the fight against crime involved separate elements of social policy which would in effect combine to create a more effective and workable solution.

The new system wanted to ensure that every agency which can influence the behaviour of an offender or potential young criminal works together to find a solution for their problems. This meant that new teams including educationalists, community volunteer's social workers, the police and others were charged with devising schemes to tackle the underlying causes of crime such as family situations and drug problems.

This workable solution had the goals set in place and in turn it also involved elements of early intervention. Collectively these initiatives heralded one of the biggest shake ups in youth justice and included the following:

Reprimand and Final warnings

Parenting orders

Action plan orders

Drug treating and testing orders

Youth Inclusion Programmes

As part of the government's attempts at a pre-emptive early intervention, then Prime Minister, Tony Blair announced that criminality could and would be predicted at an early age. The identification of poor parenting, low intelligence and social situations then led authors to conclude that the most hopeful methods would involve the earliest of interventions for young people. These ideas were formed mainly by the key influences of the Perry preschool programme in 1970s.

Some 70 Youth Inclusion Programmes are now in force in deprived areas across the country and aim to target children who are likely to offend. Rather than leaving the youngsters to their own devices and criminal temptations during non-school periods, the teams organise activities and supervision to keep the children away from drugs and criminality.

It was intended that some of the key methods of early crime prevention were:

Home visiting by professionals to give advice on nutrition etc and alcohol and drug advice to reduce parental abuse

Parenting education programmes

Cognitive and social skills

Preschool intellectual enrichment

Teacher training and anti bullying initiatives in schools

The reform also saw the introduction of the Anti-Social Behaviour Order better known as the ASBO. The anti social has consistently been used in local community practice for some period of time and the government took the view that youths hanging around are synonymous with disorder and menace (Burney 2004).

New Labour placed the Anti-Social Behaviour Order on the statutory footing and enacted it into law and parliament. It was met with a barrage of criticism from all areas of the country - both local and political. ASBO's were originally never intended to be used on anyone under the age of 16.

Anti-social behaviour is a case in point; another example of a problem which grew quickly in the British political hothouse. Action to tackle Anti-social behaviour was very much part of Tony Blair's personal crusade - he said as much on a number of occasions. Growing and developing, anti-social behaviour turned very rapidly into a major governmental initiative. Scotland adopted a much more restrictive use of ASBOs, but within a very short time in England and Wales, the notions 'ASBO' and 'problem youth' seemed to have become virtually synonymous. Anti-social behaviour had become, almost inadvertently it seems, a youth problem.

Each Youth Offending Team brings together professionals with a range of disciplines. Statutory involvement is required from local authority social services and education departments, the police, probation service and health authorities; other agencies, such as housing and youth and community departments, are also encouraged to contribute resources to the teams. Each team is led by a Youth Offending Team manager, who is responsible for coordinating the work of the local youth justice services.

The work to be undertaken by Youth Offending Teams is outlined in section 38 of the 1998 Crime and Disorder Act and set out in the National Standards for Youth Justice produced by the Youth Justice Board. Their role includes a series of goals such as early prevention through a range of targeted programmes, carrying out assessments using a structured assessment tool produced by the Youth Justice Board on every young person who enters the system.

This assessment is intended to determine why the young person has offended, what their family and social background and circumstances are, what their mental state of mind is and also to determine if they have any alcohol or substance abuse problems. They will also use this tool to assess their educational attainment and also what level of risk they pose to themselves and others around them.

As stated previously the teams will offer intervention programmes around the country to young people who have received a final warning from the police. This is intended to tackle the cause of the young person's offending and attempt to enable them to confront the consequences of their actions and in turn carry out some form of reparation. They will also provide a supervising officer for every young person who is part of the system, the officer will attempt to develop a supervision plan which will address offending behaviour and the associated factors which are identified through the Youth Offending teams assessment.

The plans are designed to address the young person's primary education, work training and employment. They must also address any substance abuse and health care that may be needed as well as their primary career goals and parental involvement. The officer and the youth team will then work together to address experience of discrimination or any discriminatory attitudes or behaviour, and plans to reduce risk of harm to themselves or others where a significant risk has been assessed.

An early intervention may also include anger management for a young person, life skills training or even parenting courses for the young person's immediate family or carers. It is designed to help and although it requires a lot of effort and spending it does have substantial goals and guidelines in place. It also allows the Youth Offending Teams and the Police to cover direct or indirect reparation to the victims of the young person's crimes.

Criticisms' of the current policy:

In 2007 the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies carried out an audit on Labours policies and new ideas, below is a brief review of their findings and criticisms'.

Since 2000-2001, when Youth Offending Teams were being rolled out across England and Wales and the Youth Justice Board had taken over responsibility for commissioning custodial places, spending on youth justice increased in real terms by 45 per cent. Excluding probation, youth justice has received the largest real-terms increase of all the main criminal justice agencies.

In 2006 - 2007, total spending on the youth justice system - money specifically allocated for youth justice by the Youth Justice Board and the various statutory agencies that contribute to Youth Offending Team budgets - amounted to £648.5 million. Youth Justice Boards funding accounts for just over two-thirds of this money.

Most of the Youth Justice Board's spending, is on purchases of custodial places for children. Ten times more is spent on custody than on prevention, which accounts for 5 per cent of Youth Justice Board expenditure. An examination of changes in Youth Justice Board spending shows that the largest real-terms increase of all the main expenditure categories has been on the Youth Justice Boards' operational costs.

There has been a substantial increase in expenditure on youth justice, but the relatively small amount spent on prevention projects and the large amount spent on custody is striking, especially given the fact that a significant tranche of youth justice money has been drawn from 'social', rather than criminal justice, budgets.

The government's record on youth crime reduction is less impressive than many would have expected following a wide-ranging programme of youth justice reform and substantial investment. This raises questions about the success of the reforms in making an impact on the number of children and young people who offend, and demonstrates that the youth justice agencies can do little more than regulate youth crime.

Several targets have been set for re-offending but none have been met. Initial claims of great success had to be corrected and the latest figures show there has been very little progress. The government has been beset with problems in setting, revising and failing to hit its reconviction targets for children. These are partly due to its own lack of clarity about what it is trying to achieve.

The only success has been in meeting the targets on arrest to sentence and processing cases through the youth court. This raises important questions about the expansion of the youth justice net, in terms of the number of children dealt with for minor transgressions and the number imprisoned, and the intended outcomes of the youth justice reform programme.

A Way Forward- Restorative Justice:

Restorative justice is an approach to justice that focuses on the needs of victims and offenders, instead of the need to satisfy the abstract principles of law or the need of the community to exact punishment.

Restorative Justice works to resolve conflict and repair harm. It encourages those who have caused harm to acknowledge the impact of what they have done and gives them an opportunity to make reparation.

In a restorative justice environment the harm done by a crime is an offence against the person or community.

Victims are allowed the opportunity to participate

Victims & others may be brought together with an impartial mediator to consider what happened and find out what can be done to help put it right

Responsibility and (re)integration are encouraged

The Independent Commission on Youth Crime and Anti-social Behaviour conducted an in-depth 18 month study, called 'Time for a Fresh Start', which considered alternatives to the existing ways of tackling youth crime.

It suggests restorative youth conferences - modelled on procedures introduced in Northern Ireland - should be used with young people who have offended in all but the most serious cases.

Usually the young person has been referred by the courts and will attend a meeting with their parents or carer, a member of staff from the Youth Justice Service, trained volunteers and where willing, the victims of crime. They will work on a contract for the young person to make up for what they have done and to promise to stay out of trouble in the future. If they don't, they will face sentencing.


Despite the government rhetoric of 'nipping crime in the bud' there is no evidence that early intervention has any impact on reoffending rates.

Overall, most of the targets have been missed and success in achieving the desired outcomes has been far more elusive than the government claims. In reality, the record on youth justice reform is at best mixed. Despite the huge investment, self-reported youth offending has not declined and the principal aim of the youth justice system set out in the 1998 Crime and Disorder Act, 'to prevent offending by children and young persons' has yet to be achieved in any significant sense.

Fundamental questions need to be asked about whether the youth justice agencies can really address the complex economic and social factors which are the cause of so much youth offending.

Has the government placed too high expectations on the youth justice system and should it be clearer about its limitations? Are more effective solutions to be found outside the youth justice system in the delivery of co-ordinated services through mainstream local authority children's and young people's provision and more effective children's services?

After a number of years of expansion, is it time to scale back youth justice and scale up social support? The time has come to reappraise the role and purpose of the youth justice system and to consider what it can realistically achieve in addressing youth offending and to explore what other options are available to the people and the government.

With a new government in power there is some confusion over the future of the Youth Justice Board and its whole organisation but only time will tell its future and how the Conservative government deem it necessary or not.