Handling youth crime and disorder has been the main idea of the New Labor government since it took power in 1997. Numerous researches have revealed that approximately three out of four crimes in the UK are usually committed by young people, who began the crime while they were in their teens. The Crime and Disorder Act, which was enacted in 1998, as well as the first part of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act of 1999, were incorporated in New Labor as youth justice strategy in England and Wales. The core objective of enacting the Crime and Disorder Act was to permit local authorities to take more responsibilities on implementation of strategies aimed at minimizing crime and public disorder among local communities. Youth Justice Board was also involved in the strategy to ensure that every aspect of integrity, which can be used to influence the behavior of the offenders, contributes towards finding a solution. Thus, the youth justice reforms have offered the direction, as well as focus, under which the government can institute mechanisms to prevent children and young people from offending.
The Rise of Youth Justice Reforms
The issue of youth crime has attracted political interest for many years, as each party strives to devise the best tactics to respond to it. The New Labor party in Britain spent much of the 1990s on the opposition side. While in opposition, the party made a promise that it would overhaul the youth justice system upon clinching power (Goldson, B. 2012, 91). The party had observed that the number of young people who were entering the criminal justice system was gradually rising, owing to an ineffective justice system. The party began to institute new plan to handle criminal justice policy, which merged aspects of communitarianism with those of populist punitiveness. The 1997 election campaign capitalized on one agenda: to fight crime in England and Wales. Tony Blair, the Labor Party’s flag bearer, assured the electorates of his commitment to institute a crime and disorder bill, which aimed at fighting crime and anti-social behavior, which were a threat to the region’s peace.
The youth justice reforms were established to reduce moral profligacy and decay among young people. The push for the youth justice reforms aimed at deterring young offenders from unwarranted behaviors with an assumption that young people are less capable of controlling their impulses than adults. Hence, such group may lack the capacity to understand the graveness of their offenses, as well as the consequences of their behavior. The concerns about youth crime, as well as youth justice, were driven by a “moral panic” that depicted children’s criminal behavior (Grimwood, G. & Strickland, P. 2013, 5). Although moral panic is a personal conception, well-grounded measures are necessary to assure personal and collective safety. Long-term crime rate is usually affected by a large proportion of young males, who are exposed to crime and violence at an early age. Additionally, social changes can influence social investment, as some institutions do not encourage law-abiding behavior.
The new youth justice structure was reviewed out of the recommendations made by the Audit Commission report. The Audit Commission report discredited the youth justice system for being inefficient and costly while little intervention was done to handle juvenile nuisance (Fox, D. & Arnull, E. 2013, 38). The existing arrangements failed the youth because they lacked clear directions of how to move away from offending towards constructive activities. In addition, there was lack of clear co-ordination among different agencies involved in preventing offending and antisocial behavior. Thus, the Labor party was determined to make a radical overhaul on youth justice.
The push for youth justice reforms could have emerged due to failure by the government to utilize custody as a facility to safeguard child prisoners. The disproportionate use of penal custody against children in Britain and Wales has been blamed by human rights activists for going against international laws, treaties, and conventions (Goldson, B. & Muncie, J. 2015, 247). Penal institutions are deemed to invoke fear in children as they customarily expose them to dangers and risks, rather than offering correction of behavior. Physical assault and abuse are widespread in many prisons and other custodies that hold children.
After clinching power, Labor party emphasized the agenda of youth crime and justice by enacting the Crime and Disorder Act. The party ensured that all agencies that were involved in the youth justice were working together to attain one end. To represent the youth justice locally, the Youth Offending Teams were established and offered a means to transform the youth justice system in local areas (Newburn, T. 1998, 206).
The Crime and Disorder Act has enhanced security and safety in various neighborhoods through reassurance. The Labor manifesto guaranteed fast-track sentence for persistent young offenders, as well as instituting community safety orders to calm disruptive criminals among various residents. The New Labor government had a conviction that having a thorough preventive plan on youth crime, offsetting adult crime in the future would be an easy task. Thus, the strategy had to incorporate measures that are based on the party’s pledge to act tough on crime, as well as being harsh on the roots of crime (Goldson, B. 2012, 91). The youth justice system was established to curtail incidences of youth offending. The success of such system is evaluated by its capacity to reduce the number of young people being newly admitted in the criminal justice system.
How to prevent crime, as well as disorder, as demonstrated by the youth, is one of the critical factors in youth justice system. The Act targeted prolific, as well as other priority offenders among the youth. The first part of Crime and Disorder Act highlights on avoidance of crime and disorder. The New Labor government realized that the most appropriate approach to maintain order and tranquility in the neighborhood is through preventing crime and all forms of disorders among the youth. Another key segment in the Crime and Disorder Act is the Anti-Social Behavior orders (ASBOs), which are civil regulations imposed on people who are believed to have participated in anti-social behavior. According to Maguire (2010, 64), the Crime and Disorder Act termed antisocial behavior as “acting in a manner that caused, or was likely to cause harassment, alarm, or distress to one or more persons, not of the same household as the perpetrator.”
Although the consensus that emerged from the policy-makers, politicians, and legal practitioners concerning the youth justice led to the youth justice reforms, the general feeling among English and Welsh residents pertaining to persistent crime facilitated the urge for reforms. In particular, the public concern following the abduction and subsequently murder of James Bulger in 1993, led to the campaign for better response to juvenile offenses (Newburn, T. 1998, 200). The debate was hijacked by politicians, who played a decisive role in the drafting of the Crime and Disorder Act.
The government wanted to see the youth justice system making actual difference towards the lives of children, as well as young people, by advising them on how to become responsible citizens. Some commentators had disputed that the way the UK approached the issue of young offenders was too punitive, thus, a new approach was necessary (Grimwood, G. & Strickland, P. 2013, 6). In this connection, ASBOs were drafted to assist in correcting minor occurrences that are not likely to warrant criminal prosecution. For instance, when the government wants to restrict certain people from entering certain regions, ASBOs are critical in carrying out such orders. ASBOs were deemed essential for safeguarding people from encountering further anti-social acts performed by the alleged offenders.
Strengthening the communication safety and partnership has helped in facilitating voluntary and community involvement, where partners have emerged to work with the government to prevent crime. Involving other agencies has aided in raising awareness, in addition to improving on communication on matters pertaining to community peace. The Crime and Disorder Act necessitates the partners to come up with a community safety strategy that would prevent crime and anti-social behavior among the youth in community. Such partnership is essential to assist parents in supporting children who have defied the law. This includes the establishment of local child curfew schemes by local authorities, to restrict children under the age of 10 years from accessing specified places (Newburn, T. 1998, 208).
Manifestations of Youth Justice System
Since its inception, the Crime and Disorder Act has managed to change the lives of many young people in England and Wales. However, the Act is blamed for the continuous tension that developed between the notion of punishment and the necessity to safeguard the wellbeing of children. Apparently, the Act had kick-started a new chapter in the youth justice system within England and Wales. Some of the changes took place immediately while others are still work-in-progress. The Crime and Disorder Act managed to establish various bodies to assist in undertaking the responsibility of preventing offending among the youth. Other partners also joined in to assist in this endeavor.
The Youth Justice Board is one of the manifestations of youth involvement in the structure of justice at the national level. The Youth Justice Board ensures that the youth in England and Wales are catered for in the justice system through rationalizing and modernizing secure units within the youth justice system (Matthews, R. & Young, J. 2003, 89). The board has the support of the Ministry of Justice, as its members are appointee of Justice Secretary to offer advice to the Home Secretary. The Youth Justice Board is responsible for preventing offending, minimizing instances of re-offending, safeguarding the public, supporting victims of crime, as well as maintaining the welfare of children and the youth in the justice system (Hucklesby, A. & Wahidin, A. 2013, 232). The board is extremely keen on steps taken by the government to prevent crime among young people, thus, developing good practice was necessary to accommodate behaviors of young proper who are yet to attain the age of 18 years.
The Youth Offending Teams (YOT), which are established through the Crime and Disorderly Act, work closely with the Youth Justice Board to assist young people who have already been tested by the law to keep away from crime. The teams work with police, probation officers, and local community to monitor young people’s behavior and to decide whether an individual involved in certain crimes can go to court. Working at the local levels, the YOTs are linked to the assumption that young people are vulnerable to some impulses brought by poverty, neglect, and cruelty within their families and community. Although the YOTs are vulnerable to political manipulations, they are quite critical in educating the youth on how to avoid drug use, in addition to enhancing their own welfare.
The Youth Justice Board was given a responsibility to decide on the best approach to carry out youth justice system. With the assistance of the national government, the board commission carries out research on ways to prevent youth offending. Some fashions of youth justice systems indicate that increased exposure to judicial systems did not deter youth from offending or offer rehabilitation service, but rather increased reoffending (Petitclerc, A., et al. 2013, 295). Some critics purport that prisons tend to be lawless agencies that could not be trusted in shaping the lives of young people. Prison authorities are believed to enjoy substantial power over the offenders while prisoners do not understand their rights.
Young people in custody are in dire need of social, emotional, and health provision; without that, it could be difficult to make any advancement in education. Health providers and counselors can assist offenders to develop thinking skills, which are critical in improving their emotional wellbeing and, consequently, turn their lives around (Grimwood, G. & Strickland, P. 2013, 17). The report by the Audit Commission suggested a reduction time taken after arrest to court appearance, and minimizing the number of young individuals placed on the offended list while on bail. Since 2004, the Labor government has recorded a number of changes in youth justice, which include the establishment of the Youth Rehabilitation Order, where magistrates can opt to modify community sentences to suit the individuals brought before them (Clinks. 2011, 2).
The announcement that the youth justice system is shrinking is probably the best news that the New Labor government would have wanted to hear. The youth justice system is experiencing a contraction, as the number of young people receiving youth justice sanction has been gradually falling. The number of children joining the criminal justice system, or the first-time entrants, is going down due to the effects of the Crime and Disorder Act (Bateman, T. 2015, 2). The National Association for Youth Justice (NAYJ) has campaigned for a friendly youth justice system, which would institute a rights-based statutory structure to cater for children who are in disagreement with the law. The contraction may also be influenced by financial urgency, linked to perceived need for strictness, instead of assessing how the welfare of children who defy the law might be promoted.
The youth justice system does not always offer the desired goals due to political interference and poor plan. Every system that involves community is liable to attract criticism, as no system is capable of satisfying all individuals. Although England and Wales have experienced a drop in youth incarceration, the reforms that were established to enhance consistency in offering youth justice have failed to maintain public expectations. The intention of restricting offending is too broad and scantily defined that almost every form of youth justice performance could be validated in these terms (Hucklesby, A. & Wahidin, A. 2013, 234). The new system has interfered with the competing rationales, which have characterized the youth justice system found in England and Wales.
Critics of New Labor’s approach to youth justice system are particularly directed to the government’s continuing trust on custodial punishments for young offenders. Activists have blamed the government for interfering with the welfare of teenagers found on street corners, which has led to a rapid increase in the number of youth in custody. In addition, the local authorities are being burdened with the responsibility of handling a large number of teenagers, who may be victims of social problems.
Why Youth Justice System should be Depoliticized
The politicization of youth justice reforms serves to demonize certain populations of the young, as well as to institutionalize prejudice. Politicians cannot be trusted in maintaining order in legal departments; hence, involvement of other agencies in the implementation of justice has enabled the youth justice system to remain tough on crime agendas. Politicisation not only counteracts evidence that the system has installed, but also disfigures policy formation, leading to a skewed public opinion (Goldson, B. & Muncie, J., 2015, 252). Senior politicians should endeavor to enhance the public by avoiding overreacting on various interpretations of the youth policy. There is a great anxiety among the public as many people do not understand the operations of YOTs (Goldson, B. 2012, 29). Politicians should take the responsibility of informing the public on matters of youth justice to assist parents in raising respectable children.
The issue of poverty and inequality has also affected the youth justice system. Most young people who have been exposed to legal systems come from the poor families. Such people are heavily exposed to criminalization, regulation, correction involvement, and punishment (Goldson, B. & Muncie, J., 2015, 250). Lack of policies to address social inequality and economic problems that face certain groups of people have given rise to criminalization, social distress, and conflicts. Children who are raised in families experiencing poverty and inequality have higher chances of committing crime at an early age than children from affluent families. Hence, politicians should work on drafting policies that could ensure equal distribution of resources to enhance the youth justice system, rather than exposing young people to correction facilities without catering for their welfare after releasing them.
Youth justice systems are extremely dependent of the current government due to the approach to administration and commitment to satisfy public needs. The core principles for the youth justice reforms are to prevent offending, re-offending, arrest to sentence, youth crime, and ensuring that young people’s needs are adequately met. The assessment of the youth justice reforms in England and Wales since the 1990s led to enactment of Crime and Disorder Act that consequently advocated for the Youth Justice Board, as well as YOTs. New Labor prioritized the youth justice policy to tackle youth crime by fast-tracking the punishment on unrelenting young offenders. Although some of the ideas for youth justice reforms are yet to be implemented, some of the gains made in youth justice system have been criticized for failing to appreciate how young people handle the Criminal Justice System, as most of the victims are children from poor families who lack proper education and encounter poor parenting.
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