The purpose of this paper is to provide a reflection on the current trajectory of youth justice policy. The paper offers fresh insight into the changing face of youth justice.
The paper draws on a range of sources, including published journal articles and statistical evidence. In so doing it critically reviews relevant academic literature.
Three critical insights arise from the review. First, there are promising approaches emerging in youth justice organised around the principle of avoiding formal processing of young people where possible; such as, for example, Triage, the Youth Restorative Disposal, Youth Justice Liaison and Diversion schemes, the Swansea Bureau and the Durham Pre-Reprimand Disposal. Thus there is evidence of an emerging consensus, across the domains of policy, practice and legislation which seem to endorse the idea of community-based minimum intervention, supported by principles of offender rehabilitation and restoration. Second, whilst they have not intruded to any great extent in the sphere of youth justice so far, there is no doubt that the government is keen to extend the remit of Payment by Results schemes. Perhaps most concerning is the issue with private sector organisations engaging in “gaming activities” where maximising profit becomes the intention over enhancing the well-being of the young person. Third, it is argued that in order to reconcile the lack of user-led engagement of offenders, and experiences of disempowerment, the priority should be, throughout the Youth Justice System, to involve young people in assessment and decision-making processes.
As an exploratory paper, it does not set out to provide a blueprint on “how” the issues outlined should be resolved. Rather, it provides a basis for further discussion, and highlights some examples of promising practice, particularly around the issues of offender engagement, participation and rights compliance. This is particularly important considering that the UK government will report to the United Nations this year (2014) on its progress in implementing and complying with the children's right agenda.
The paper highlights the issues and ambiguities facing practitioners working within a payment by results framework which is contextualised by what appears to be a more liberal tone in public policy. It also explores the challenges delivering participatory approaches.
The paper investigates a neglected area in youth justice, namely that of participatory approaches. It argues that, although there are resource pressures and time constraints, service user participatory techniques should be encouraged, particularly as they promote positive engagement and motivation, principally by offering a sense of control over choice.
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