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Public protection or public perception? Breach action within the youth justice system

Di Hart (Principal Officer, care and safeguarding at the youth justice for National Children's Bureau, London, UK)

Safer Communities

ISSN: 1757-8043

Article publication date: 10 October 2011




This paper aims to describe a study examining the enforcement of statutory orders within the youth justice system.


After an initial scoping of policy and statistical data, the study examined how the enforcement system operates when children breach their anti‐social behaviour or criminal justice order. Interviews were conducted with a youth offending team manager, Chair of the Youth Bench and a lead on anti‐social behaviour within each of six localities in England and Wales to establish their views and experiences. Interviews were also conducted with 12 children subject to a statutory order in the community and four children serving a custodial sentence for a breach offence, and their circumstances and offending histories analysed.


The small sample size and gaps in statistical data are a limitation but the findings indicate that inflexible guidance on enforcement based on incidents of non‐compliance rather than the child's attitudes and engagement can constrain practitioners and disadvantage the most vulnerable children without any evidence that it “works” in making communities safer. For many children, failure to comply was a response to their turbulent lives rather than an act of defiance. In an attempt to provide the structure that the children needed, onerous conditions were attached to orders that risked setting them up to fail.


The impact that enforcement policy has on children has not previously been examined and the study raises a fundamental question about whether a tough approach to enforcement is effective in changing behaviour or whether a refocusing towards positive engagement would be more productive.



Hart, D. (2011), "Public protection or public perception? Breach action within the youth justice system", Safer Communities, Vol. 10 No. 4, pp. 19-27.



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Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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