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The aim of this essay is to discuss social policy development in the Youth Justice System (YJS). It places the discussion in the context of some of the economics, political and social concepts that influence social policy development in the YJS. The essay further discusses some of the impacts of these policies in relation to social exclusion, inequality and poverty. It will also assess the structures and organisations like; the Youth Justices Board (YJB 2004), the Intensive Surveillance and Supervision Programme (ISSP) and the Youth offending Teams (YOT) that are involved in the welfare provision. The essay also explores the relationships amongst the different agencies involved in social welfare provision for young offenders.
A number of youth justice policies have been developed between 1979 to date. In 1979 the Conservative Government came to power with rhetoric of being tough on crime than its Labour opponents. They introduced a tougher regime known as ‘short sharp shock’ into detention centres, they promised to jail every person who was sentenced by the judges and magistrates. As a result, the prison population rose (Says who?).
In an attempt to limit the prison population, they encouraged diversion from court and custody and also opted for shorter sentences for many ‘run-of-mills’ offenders. They also introduced a less harsh measure policy of bifurcation which was advocated for the less serious offenders. (Goldson: 2008). Despite these measures, the prison population continued to rise with regular out breaks of riots and disorder within prisons.
After the 1987 General Elections, Douglas Hard the then Home Office secretary introduced new YJS approaches which became to be known as the Hurd approach. They included volunterisation, privatisation, managerialism, crime prevention and the neighbourhood watch. (Cavadin &Dignan: 2006)
They also introduced the Criminal Justice Act 1988 which created a unified sentence of detention in Young Offenders Institutions. The Children Act of 1989 which directed local authorities to make arrangements for diversion from prosecution of child offenders (Muncie et al 2002).
New Labour Government introduced the early interventions and restorative justice commonly known as the 3Rs (restoration, reintegration and reparation), they passed the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 which introduced the Detention and Training Order (Goldson, 2008). They created the Youth Justice Board (YJB) which is a multi-agency youth body that identifies and monitors good practice (YJB 2004). They formed the Youth Offending Teams (YOTs) which locally co-ordinate the provision of youth justice services and are responsible for various supervisory duties in regard to community penalties, intervention programmes and pre-sentence reports (Muncie et al 2006). Among other policies, they introduced the Criminal Justice Act 2003 to overcome discrimination and inequality in the system (Blakemore and Griggs: 2007).
It would be notable that although the Conservative Government’s policies and those of New Labour appear different, they are largely similar in that they all hold the principle of punishment in them. However, to analyse their effectiveness, the essay evaluates the factors that influenced these reforms and their impact on the young offenders’ and those at risk.
Social policy development in the YJS is significantly influenced by politics. Kevin (2009) states that, “the establishment of the Youth Offending Teams (YOT) and the new youth justice framework was imposed by the government” (Kevin, 2009: 298). Furthermore, Goldson (2008) states that:
“due to pressure on the government to take action on youth crime, the decision to implement the Intensive Surveillance and Supervision Programme (ISSP) was taken long before the evaluations of the pilots could even be completed” (Goldson, 2008, p.136).
Critics of political interference in policy development like Kevin (2009, p. 295 cited in Pitts, 2000) advises that “the need for critical practice is paramount no matter how clever the government thinks it is”. Goldson (2008, p.164) further supports this opinion by stating that “Evidence Based Policy Practice improves decision making and should inform the development of public policy”. While, Blakemore and Griggs (2007, p.197) recommend that the government plays a leading role in policy development, but remain relatively open to professionals and pressure groups. This point appears to carry more weight as it strikes a balance between the role of the government, elitists and the pressure groups. This brings up the debate of the independence of the judiciary from the state.
Social policy development in the youth justice is not only shaped by political influences, but also by economic structures in society. Smith (2003) argues that the government’s concern to cut state spending encouraged the reduction in the use of expensive custodial options and as a result, it opted for community sentences. He further points out that the decline in the use of secure accommodation in local authorities from 1981 onwards was a budget-driven agenda (ibid). This further supports Alcock, (2008, p.198) statement that “social policy development is closely dependent upon the economic structure of the society and upon the economic growth within it”.
Social policy development in the YJS may also be influenced by Voluntary and Community Sector (VCS). Smith (2007, p. 29-30) argued that it was the Children’s Society that reported that ‘an inter-agency initiative’ in South Wales had produced successful outcomes such as the speeding up of the judicial process and reduction of offending while on bail, that the adoption of a comprehensive approach to managing the YJS was initiated. Smith (2007) further states that the inter-agency initiative became the most effective way of delivering an agreed package of assessment, service management and record-keeping. However, Alcock (2008, p.165) criticises that “most voluntary organisations exclude some potential activists through social divisions of one kind or another”.
Having explored the social, economic and political factors that influence social policy development, an insight on how these reforms improve the welfare and wellbeing of people in relation to social exclusion, poverty and inequality is important.
Evidence from YJB (2008) states that:
“many of the ISSP participants had a range of underlying needs and were highly socially excluded: some had not been engaged in mainstream structures for some considerable time. In many cases, families had already asked for help but had been unable to get any assistance”.
It also states that “89 percent of young people on ISSP reoffended at some point in the first year of the program” (YJB, 2004). Although the ISSP is just a single YJB program, the percentage of reoffending as stated in the report is significantly high and it can be argued that this policy has not effectively dealt with the issue of social welfare of young offenders.
However, Blakemore and Griggs (2007:62) state that “the YJB approaches are ‘needs focussed’ and that they include strategies like; psychiatry, social work and education.” This may suggest that by having interventions like psychiatry and social work, is an indication that young offenders have underlying issues which cannot be solved by punishment or custody. This line of discussion is supported by Goldson and Muncie (2006) asserting that:
“young people for whom the fabric of life invariably stretches across
poverty; family discord; drug and alcohol misuse; mental distress; ill-health; emotional, physical and sexual abuse; self harm; homelessness; isolation, loneliness; circumscribed educational and employment opportunities; ‘hollowed -out’ communities and most pressing sense of distress and alienation are the very children targeted by the youth justice apparatus”. (Goldson and Muncie, 2006, p.222)
From the problems identified above, it can also be argued that policy- makers should be aiming at promoting social welfare instead of criminal justice and by so doing, professionals like; psychiatrists, social workers and teachers would be clear about what they are trying to achieve. Goldson and Muncie (2006) further call for the ethically legitimate, rights-compliant and effective approaches to youth crime and justice stating that approaches must be located within a broad corpus of social and economic policy rather than the narrower confines of youth/criminal justice policy” (ibid).
The YJB (2006) states that, “the government has a Social Exclusion Action Plan and that poverty has been reduced” . It further states that “more needs to be done to tackle social exclusion, focussing on tackling the cycles of disadvantage that can lead to social exclusion being passed from one generation to the next”. This appears to suggest that the YJB admits that current policies are inadequate to address the issues of poverty and social exclusion. As stated eerier that the ISSP which is YJB’s strategy to rehabilitate persistent young offenders was implemented in haste, long before its pilots were completed. Could this be the reasons why it produced undesirable outcomes?.
In addition to the above, it appears that punishing young offenders with underlying issues has contributed to the YJB’s ineffectiveness. This argument is supported by Goldson (2007) asserting that:-
“despite such developments in policy, the deep-rooted tensions between welfare and justice that are intrinsic to law, policy and practice in respect of children in trouble, continue to comprise the source of contestation and complexity” (Goldson 2008: p.207).
This is amplified by Muncie (2009, p. 242 cited Hughes, and Young, 2007) arguing that “the inclusionary principles, values and ideals that inform some social policies should not be abandoned, but resurrected within agendas of social justice, rather than criminal justice”.
More concerns in terms of inequality and discrimination by Blakemore and Griggs (2007) point out that the criminal justice system is unfair and that African-Caribbeans are more likely to be jailed than whites or Asians. He also states that the police are not quick to respond to policing needs of ethnic minorities than they should have (ibid). Furthermore, Muncie (2009) argues that ethnic minority youths are statistically more likely to be stopped and searched by the police, but offending rates for African Caribbean are not higher than those of whites.
The examples of discriminatory practice and inequality may lead one to wonder how the YOTs can work effectively when the police force which has been accused of discriminatory practices.
It is notable that legislations such as the Criminal Justice Act 2003 were introduced to overcome the evils of discrimination and inequality in the entire criminal justice system. However, the examples of unequal treatment, injustice, lack of fairness and discrimination do indicate that these issues are alive, and do need to be addressed. Therefore, the policy planning process, implementation and review should focus on empowering young offenders to overcome the issues of social exclusion, poverty and inequality.
This essay has reflected on the impact of some of the political, social and economic influences on social policy development and how these resultant policies on the YJS have impacted on social exclusion, poverty and inequality. The essay appreciates the existence of the YOT as a multi- agency team in the youth justice system that includes, psychiatrists, social workers. Youth workers and education. The essay deplores the existence of the principle of punishment in the in a system which should be aiming at emancipating young offenders who have underlying issues. The essay has also discussed the existence of discrimination and inequality which exposes young offenders to social exclusion as a result of flaws in the policies. Although this essay has appraised introduction of the New Labour policies, it concludes that the practice remains largely the same despite the change in policy.
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