The Changes To The Youth Justice System

there have been many changes to the youth justice system over the years, having varying effects on youth crime. To discuss whether this statement is true or not, we must look at the many government legislations and initiatives that have tried to lower crime. The twentieth century has seen a huge array of moral panics (defined as an over exaggerated response to a problem, justified or not) due to many social changes, such as alcohol, drugs, pop culture, football, music, film, television and video games; these are all seen as causes to youth crime. The moral panic began with the Mods and Rockers who had expressive subcultures during the 1960’s which led to skinheads, lager louts, yob culture, football hooligans, rave culture and today’s young offenders and anti social behaviour. The 1970’s brought more emphasis on the individual’s responsibility, the 1980’s brought corporatism where justice specialists had a greater influence on policies and in the 1990’s where youth crime has been heavily featured in the media and there has been the recognition of sub-criminal activity such as anti-social behaviour. Youths have been seen as ‘out of control’ in the twenty-first century because of societies strong sense of morality but this has weakened for young people, young people these days are constantly looking for fun and excitement, but youth crime cannot be labelled as a moral panic, according to the Telegraph [] from 2005 to 2008, The number of under-18s convicted or cautioned over violent offences rose from 17,590 to 24,102 which is an increase of 37 per cent, however it could be argued that newspapers such as this are fuelling moral panics.

The main changes to the youth justice system began with Labour’s win in 1997, but the system does have a history. The view on youth justice has changed dramatically since the beginning of the 19h century where children were treated as adults in court, the Reformatory Schools Act 1854 created special institutions to reform children in need of care through education; this was the first major legislation towards tackling youth crime. In 1908 The Children Act was passed which abolished imprisonment of juveniles and separated juveniles from adults and began a more welfare based approach to youth crime, juvenile delinquency had started to rise by the First World War and was seen as a problem, A social commentator in 1917 stated ‘their vulgarity and silliness and the distorted, unreal Americanised view of life must have a deteriorating effect and lead to the formation of false ideals, (cited in Muncie 1999:50)’ [] . The Children and Young Persons Act 1933 then defined a child to be under the age of 14 and a young person between the ages 14 and 18, children under the age of 10 were deemed incapable of doing wrong and exempt from prosecution, this is known as doli incapax and it created a panel of magistrates to deal with youth cases, it also created loco parentis where the courts could act for the parent. During 1948 detention centres were formed, a very early version of today’s young offenders institutes and was a more punitive approach. Then came the Young Persons Act in 1969 was an important act and made many changes, it gave a bigger emphasis on the social worker and proposed that offenders under the age of 14 with care instead of punishment, police were also made to make use of cautions, however afterwards, the act was criticised for being too soft as rates of crime began to rise. Because of its many flaws, The Criminal Justice Act 1982 and restricted the use of care and custodial orders, Borstals were replaced with fixed term youth custody orders, new sentences were created and abolished numerous times afterwards until the Criminal Justice Act 1988 which rid youth custody and replaced it with detention in youth offender institutes. The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 brought secure training for those aged 12 to 15, The Crime (Sentences) Act 1997 extended community sentences and introduced tagging. Cautioning was revised in the Criminal Justice Act 1998 which restricted the use of reprimands and warnings. Before 1997 figures show that approximately 70% of all crimes were committed by a small number of young men and so with Labour’s win in 1997, their overhaul of the youth justice system had 3 objectives to deal with ‘Prevent youngsters from falling in to crime, provide the criminal justice system with more sentencing choices and focus sentencing on preventing repeat offending’ [] . Those aged under 18 are sentenced differently from adults as the criminal justice system believe that they are less responsible for their actions than adults and that sentencing should be used for reform as well as/or instead of punishment, this did change however with the killing of James Bulger by two 10 year old boys in 1993 where the murder was so violent they were tried in an adult court. The case caused a huge nationwide debate on how to handle young offenders; much of this was fuelled by the media. The government began its reform with the 1998 white paper ‘No more excuses – A new Approach to Tackling Youth Crime in England and Wales’ this in turn lead to The Crime and Disorder Act 1998 which included: The Youth Justice Board for England and Wales to deal with young offenders and reduce reoffending, the Youth Justice Service for local authorities to tackle crime, Youth Offending Teams which included members from probation, social services, police etc., anti-social behaviour orders, new community orders, local child curfew and others, although this act did cover punishment, welfare, action plans, objectives and performance reviews, it has been widely criticised for being too harsh with parenting orders, curfews and ASBO’s. There is a clash between ASBO’s which exclude offenders and the Youth Offending Teams which has a more inclusionist approach. There have been concerns that most of these efforts do not tackle the root causes of crime nor do they influence good behaviour in youths. However this act has many advantages, there is a strong emphasis on the welfare of the child such as the early intervention and focus on parenting and the parent’s responsibility to the child, ‘the emphasis on restorative justice illustrates the persistence of welfare principles and the act has led to greater funding for the youth justice system [] ‘.The Home Office website lists the main causes of youth crime as ‘troubled home life poor attainment at school, truancy and school exclusion, drug or alcohol misuse and mental illness, deprivation such as poor housing or homelessness and/or peer group pressure’ and these are the main areas of concern and focus points of the Youth Crime Action Plan of 2008 which set out the governments goals for the next year.

The act led to huge amounts of money being spent on the youth justice system like never before, approximately £380 million which doubled to £648.5 million by 2007. Youth courts were established by the Criminal Justice Act 1991 and deal with those aged 10 to 17, Labour’s plans were to try and keep young offenders out of court and emphasised the use of ASBO’s community orders etc., however, the Centre of Crime and Justice studies performed an independent audit of the system in 2007 and found ‘the key priority was speeding up the youth justice process’ [] resulting in missed targets for Labour. It claims that the majority of the budget was spent of custody and not prevention which is pointless if the government do not want youths in custody.

As mentioned earlier, the Youth Justice board was introduced in 1998 and has changed the youth crime system, by trying to help young offenders, for example, accommodation and resettlement, alternatives to custody, education, training and employment and health and has set its self targets to reduce self-reported crime and the amount of children overall in the service, however as the independent audit states: ‘Despite regular commitments made by the YJB to reduce the number of children sentenced to custody, the latest targets have not been met. In fact, at present, performance is deteriorating, with numbers increasing by 8% since March 2003 against a target of a 10% reduction.’ [] It could be argued that although the creation of the Youth Justice Board was a step in the right direction, it hasn’t nearly been as successful as it could have been and is failing.

Next are the Youth Offending teams, set up in every local authority in England and Wales and is represented by people from the police and probation to health, education and social services. According to the audit, Labour used budgets from social and health care to fund youth crime prevention which according to the report is vital to keeping youth offending down; youth offending teams are not cut out for the social aspect of youth offending which led to missed targets and overworking. The report also found that youth offending teams can only regulate youth crime and cannot reduce it which should be reformed in policy. Although many changes have been made and a lot of money spent, there is increasing fear of gang and knife crime.

To have a clearer view on this, we must look at statistics; the main supplier of these is the OCJS (Offending, Crime and Justice Survey) who in 2006 performed a self reporting offending survey to 10 to 25 year olds. For example

Here we can see the proportion of 10- to 25-year-olds committing an offence in the last 12 months, at its highest on 26% of all 10 to 25 year olds are committing crime, which is less than a 3rd of all young people, according to the survey ’12 per cent of males aged from 10 to 25 said they had committed an offence designated as serious, eight per cent were classified as frequent offenders, and five per cent as serious and frequent offenders’ [] . 10 to 25 year olds is a wide area of study which could include thousands of young people, of this of only at the most 12% are committing serious crimes, the statistics could be a lot worse. As stated in the summary: ‘(it surveys people aged) 10 to 25 living in the general household population in England and Wales. The survey does not cover young people living in institutions, including prisons, or the homeless, and thus omits some high offending groups.’ This is a relatively big omission, if they do not survey the people in prison who have been incarcerated of crimes; they are leaving out quite a vital part of their research. Also, the research is only a study which involves interviewing; they interviewed past interviewee’s from 2003 and 2004 and used new people. Yet if the survey was for 2005, they would only use new people, they also compare to the 2003 and 2004 surveys, which would suggest they are comparing the same people. As mentioned the survey is predominately made up of interviewing, it does not take police crime statistics into account which could give totally different results.

According to the government report- Crime Action Plan: One year on Summary, they have been successful in reducing crime, re-offending fell between 2000 and 2007 by 24% The number of young people in the criminal justice system has gone down, by 9% from 2006/7 to 2007/8, more young people are taking part in their communities than using alcohol and drugs and there had been a 22% fall in ‘sharp object’ assault. The independent audit however disagrees with this, saying that the aim of reducing young offending in Crime and Disorder act has yet to be achieved and that self reported offending is not declining.

In conclusion, I would agree and disagree with changes to the youth justice system have little impact on the youth crimes, in agreement rates of youth offending have declined, there’s is a lot more social support for young offenders, there has been the recognition of the causes of crime, with the creation if anti social behaviour orders, less children are kept out of court, the creation of young offending teams and the youth justice board is a huge change from the past and the government has actively tried to reduce youth crime with a much better funded system. However, in some aspects the statement could be true, some people believe that there is too much focus on welfare, and not enough on punishment, ‘New Labour had failed even to mitigate the continuing increased use of custody of young offenders, let alone reverse it’ [] , The government seem to be focusing more on some areas than others. The independent audit found that the budget for youth crime was taken from education, health and social services which were themselves vital to young offenders; they found that most of the government’s targets had been missed; Youth offending teams are failing and cannot work efficiently. As the audit says ‘A decade on from the creation of the YJB and YOTs, and at a time of rising concerns about youth ‘gangs’ and violence involving guns and knives, 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.’

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