Where Now for Youth Justice?

Published 14/09/2011
Type Article
Author(s) Roger Smith
Corresponding Authors Roger Smith, Professor of Social Work Research, De Montfort University

This article reviews the current state of play in youth justice, taking particular note of the rhetoric and initial reform proposals of the incoming coalition government. The recent history of youth justice and the nature of previous debates in this area of practice are considered, in order to ‘set the scene’. In reflecting on past experience, it is suggested that there have been certain predictable patterns to policy debates, and that these have essentially been constrained within a fairly limited ideological framework, reflecting conventional narratives of progress and failure. The question of whether policy and practice in youth justice is best represented in terms of ‘continuity’ or ‘rupture’ is considered, and it is concluded that in the recent past, at least, there has been a tendency to overstate the degree of disagreement between policy positions between governments of different political persuasions, in order to justify reforms which have, in fact, been of relatively modest proportions. At the same time, established trends towards greater liberalisation or authoritarianism appear to have operated more or less independently of the policy process. This pattern is likely to be reproduced under the incoming 2010 government’s proposed reforms, given their reliance on well-established rhetorical arguments, and their lack of engagement with fundamental processes of social division and ‘othering’.