Evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of youth justice policies in England and Wales since 1997 Essay

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Evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of youth justice policies in England and Wales since 1997

Introduction

When Labour took office in 1997 they claimed that they would be tough on crime and the causes of crime. The first 6 months were unprecedented, with six consultation documents being released on youth and crime each containing its own proposals these were first published in Tackling Youth Crime, Reforming Youth Justice (Labour 1996). To start this essay I will first discuss Labours 1997 White Paper, No more excuses: A new approach to tackling youth crime in England and Wales, where policy was laid out and then later legislated in The Crime and Disorder Act 1998. From this I will evaluate the weaknesses and strengths of the various elements of this policy which will include the aims of the youth justice system. Then in the second part move to evaluate the abolition of the doli incapax, the reparation order and parenting order.

Thirdly I will evaluate the child safety order, local child curfew, final warning scheme, action plan order. The fourth part will be an evaluation of the detention and training order and new arrangements for secure remands of 12-16 year olds. And finally the establishment of the Youth Justice Board for England and Wales, Youth Offending Teams and the duties of the local authorities and other agencies to make sure the availability of the appropriate youth justice services. And then finally bring all my findings together to produce a clear and comprehensive conclusion; which I believe has many strengths and some weaknesses.

The Labour government’s 1997 White paper, No more excuses: A new approach to tackling youth crime in England and Wales is a document which sets out labours programme of reform for the youth justice system in England and Wales, it aims are “a clear strategy to prevent offending and re-offending, that offenders, and their parents, face up to their offending behaviour and take responsibility for it, earlier, more effective intervention when young people first offend, faster, more efficient procedures from arrest to sentence, partnership between all youth justice agencies to deliver a better, faster system” Home Office (1997).

According to the Home Office (1997) the aim of the youth justice system is to prevent offending by young people. And the Crime and Disorder Bill has in it a requirement that it is the duty of all people working in the youth justice system to uphold these. The requirement covers all the youth justice agencies in England and Wales like the police, social services the probation services and others working in the Youth Offending Teams, the Crown prosecution service, defence solicitors, the prison services and courts and the way they deal with young adults. The claim is that this will provide unity between them all and that everyone is striving for the same purpose.

The government will also complement this with a new proposal for a new Youth Justice Board for England and Wales who will give advice on how to set standards and how to monitor performance. Also this will not take over or supersede practitioner’s previous roles, but will support them to understand their actions and choices when they deal with young people this can help to stop offending and can prevent avoidable delays; such as the chances of offending when awaiting sentence can be reduced, also making young people responsible for their own behaviours which can help youths understand and change their behaviours. Also community and custodial penalties whose priorities are on the causes of offending which can be enforced can help. This duty that has been stated is a clear strength bringing the various agencies and services in the same line and having one clear aim of what the task ahead is this also eliminates any confusion that might have existed.

The government according to the Home Office (1997) proposes that an aim of youth justice system and the duty discussed previously and their practitioners would be supported by more complete, non statutory objectives for these agencies. These would support the proposals made by Jack Straw’s Youth Justice Task Force which is a variety of people and groups that have a high knowledge of the system and have now issues of victims and representatives of the governmental departments.

The Task Force stated their recommendations for preventing offending which were, a speedy administration of justice so that the accused matter can be sorted out quickly, confronting offenders with the consequences of their actions, for themselves their families, victims and their communities. Punishment which reflects the seriousness and the persistence of the offending. Also to support reparation to victims by the offenders and to strengthen the responsibilities of parents and to help offenders to fix their problems and to build a sense of the personal self. This is also strength as all involved have a good knowledge of the problems and the system and would be a good resource to the system to have. And also what the Task Force has recommended is also a good step forward as it is these that have stopped the system from being efficient.

Moving onto the abolition of the doli incapax the reparation order and parenting order. The doli incapax according to Muncie (2009:275) In England and Wales, children fewer than 10 could not be found guilty of a criminal offence, and the law for many years believed that those under 14 were incapable of criminal intent. But during the 1990s the doli incapax, which had been in the law since the 14th century, was being challenged by both the right and the left. This was due to the Bulger case, the policy was put under review by the conservatives after the 1994 High Court ruling. Three years later it was abolished in the Crime and Disorder Act, the reasons given for this were so that they could convict young offenders who wreaked havoc on communities this was based on the fact that they believed that 10 and 13 year olds could capable of knowing between right and wrong.

This was against what the UN had recommended for The UK which they had made in 1995 then 2002 to come in line with the rest of Europe but the government went totally in the other direction. They gave no direction to the courts and to the youth offending teams that overall child welfare is the main consideration. This is a weakness as it contradicts what Labour had said in there White Paper, and the fact that the YOTs would be confused with conflicting policies. This legislation manages not to take the child’s age into consideration and this can be seen just by looking at the rest of Europe are the children in the UK not the same.

The reparation order is for young adults to understand the cost of their actions and to take responsibility for them. What is asked is that they repair the damage caused directly to the victim through mediation if they both agree or to the community indirectly cleaning up graffiti and other tasks around the community. This would be managed by the YOT, this can be a real strength in the rehabilitation process giving something back to the victims and the community and being able to see the damage they have caused helping to change their lives around.

Also the parenting order which has been stated by the Home Office (1997) to be created so that it can give support to parents so they can control their children. The order requires parents attend a counselling or guidance session once a week for 3 months and if the courts think that it is needed then a requirement to make sure that children attend school and to see that they get home on a certain time. This is also a strength as it forces parents to be responsible as some parents let their children do what they want to and so this is a good way of making parents act so that they can help their children from offending.

Now moving onto the child safety order, which according to the Home Office (1997) has been developed to safeguard children who are under ten where there is risk that these children will be involved in crime or signs of anti social behaviour can be seen. This could be available to local authorities in the family proceeding court. A court would be able to make a child stay at home at a certain time or ban them from going to certain places. They could also stop certain behaviours like truanting; this could also be combined with a parenting order.

And if these are not obeyed then the local authority can start proceedings. The strength of this is a the combination of the two orders as it can be most effective this way by handing responsibility 2 both parent and child giving maximum results. Then there is the Local child curfew which is for the Childs own good and to stop neighbourhood crime and disorder and states that children should not be out without supervision at night. This can be used by the local authorities and police but they would have to get permission from the Home secretary. Also the council could then bar children under 10 from certain public places after certain times. These can last for up to 90 days and if these are to be extended then police and local community. The strength of this is that it involves the local community so determining what’s best for the members of their own community.

Then there is the final warning where the Home Office (1997) has replaced the cautioning with a statuary police reprimand, what happens is that the police can decide to reprimand a child and give them a final warning or to bring criminal charges to the offender. What then happens is a community intervention programme is forced which makes the offender and his family address the causes this behaviour which can help solve the problem. What the final warning entails is that the first offence the offender can receive a reprimand by the police if the crime is not that serious and if it carries on then a another final warning or criminal charges can be pressed.

But on no grounds must 2 final warnings be given. The strength of this is that it lets the offender know that they will be strict and will not put up with it again a final warning is a final warning. Also an action plan order which is like a community penalty for young offenders, this is a small, rigorous programme where community intervention is used combined with punishment and rehabilitation so that the offender’s behaviour can be changed and more crime can be stopped. The strength in this lies in the way that it uses various methods simultaneously like community intervention, punishment and rehabilitation which can only increase the chances of success.

Moving onto and new arrangements for secure remands of 12-16 year olds. The Home office (1997) state that the government should have undeniable powers to remand to secure accommodation. For young people who are of the age 10-16 and are awaiting trial. And so The Criminal Justice Act 1991 and the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 included in its provisions to amend the Children and Young Persons Act 1969 which was to allow courts to remand 12-16 years olds directly to secure local authority accommodation with certain conditions.

But this was not put into operation. The conservatives had started a building programme which was for 170 new local authority secure places, there completion date was 1998. But Labour said that these would be not enough. And so declared to use the Crime and Disorder Bill to implement court ordered remand power on some groups of youths. Priority would be gives to 12-14s then girls of the age 15 and 16 and also boys of that age when places become available. This is due to courts believing that these children are vulnerable and they are emotionally and physically immature and so there is a danger that they could harm themselves, this is also strength as it recognises that they are still young but this also does contradict other policies in this White Paper which it does on many levels.

Also detention and training orders, these will give powers the Home Office (1997) states can be used for 10-17 year olds and courts can use these only if it is a very serious crime and if they are persistent offenders and the court believes it is needed to protect the public. This will also added to 10-11 year olds but would only be permitted by parliament if seen to be needed. The length of the sentence will be divided, half of it will be in custody and half in community supervision and this also could be adjusted if good behaviour is seen. This is a good as it does not just impose a detention where by this can harden the youth and in some cases lead to further crimes but with the community supervision would let the offender know that they have been given a chance to mend their ways.

Then Maguire, Morgan and Reiner (2002:560) discuss Labours ‘new youth justice’ which is the forming of the Youth Justice Board (YJB) and the Youth offending Teams (YOTs); and also what takes place through this legislation is a restructure of non custodial penalties in the youth court. So considering Labours main aim of having a youth justice system which prevents offending by children and young adults, the way labour went about this is to impose order from the centre. There tools to enable this was a catalogue of legislations, also the then Home secretary Jack Straw formed a youth justice task force the aim of this was to keep a tight link with all the other agencies involved with young offenders. Due to the section 41 of the Crime Disorder Act the YJB had turned into a non departmental public body which was then sponsored by the Home Office.

The job of the YJB was to monitor the running of the youth justice system and the provision of the youth justice services and also the national standards and establishing the right performance measures. What also the 1998 Act made possible was for the home secretary to give the board more powers which included the YJB becoming the commissioning body of all the placements that are under 18 in a secure facility on remand or have a sentence from the courts. The YJB was also given control over commissioning places including prison services YOTs, secure training centres (STCs) and local authority secure units. This is also strength as it brings together all the agencies under one roof you could say and so the aims are understood by all and are the same this can only help.

This brings me to managerialism, the reason the YJB and the YOTs were set up in the first place was because according to Muncie (2009:297) investigations from the Public Accounts Committee, Audit commission and the National Audit Office recommended and supported subjugating professional skills independent managerial ideals of what works, which could attach certain resources to credible and successful outcomes and which could initiate responsibility to law and order from a central state to a sequence of semi independent local partnerships which will include privatized bodies and voluntary agencies.

Words such as individual need, rehabilitation, reformation, penal purpose and due process are replaced by techniques of classification and actuarialism, risk assessment and resource management changes all the earlier understanding of law and order from understanding motivations of crime to making crime bearable through universal coordination. This is a total difference from earlier ways and managerial system is thought to lower the standard or expectations of what a government can achieve in the youth justice system. This to me is a weakness as it is being run like a business which always has its priorities in cost and reduction, but also I can see strengths to as it can be more efficiently run with professionals running it – with the right knowledge.

The Act also contained anti social behaviour orders. Muncie (2009:317) explains that they are usually refer to a variety of things such as youths that hang out causing trouble making a nuisance of them and to their neighbours, making noise, vandalising property, littering, and causing graffiti to public property and drunkenness. This has been a priority in England and Wales, the key to New Labour was to strengthen the ability of the criminal justice system so they could treat disorder and the lack of respect but serious crimes too as it was clear that disorder was rising and was affecting neighbourhoods and also that it was a sign of times to come more serious crimes.

The police and courts were said to be powerless against the nuisance and the anti social behaviour that was being caused and that this was being mixed in with impunity. Second at the centre was a program and wish not just to reduce crime and disorder, but to encourage a process of civil renewal and civic responsibility. Third the broken windows theory was taken aboard a it was believed that a failure to accept zero tolerance policing of lesser serious offending and signs of disorder could only further destroy already deprived and marginalized communities.

The Anti social behaviour order (ASBO) was the flagship of New Labour in their 1998 Crime and Disorder Act. Muncie (2009:318) explains that this is a civil not a criminal order and can be given by the police and local authority to anyone that is over 10 years of age whose behaviour can cause alarm, distress or even harassment. The minimum time an order can last is two years. But if you breach the order it will be treated as a criminal offence and the punishment for this can be up to two years in prison for juveniles and five years for adults. Certain local authorities went even further and started to experiment with Acceptable Behaviour Contracts (ABCs) which were for even lower levels of behaviours and for lower ages those below for ten years of age.

And if they are given an order then they must agree and to take steps to correct their behaviour, the steps will be decided by local youth offending team (YOT) and their parents must also agree on the steps. Initially when the ASBO was introduced it was said that it was for adults that were nuisances to their neighbours, but this statement was later changed and became for young people and areas that high crime rates became the targets of this order. The “Home office review, 58% were made on under 18 year olds and a further 16% on those aged between 18 and 21. There are certain steps in this that are positive but to me there are inherent weaknesses to, like to give anti social behaviour order and lock youths in their houses and stop them from going into certain locations can work but does not address the real problem, and Labour could try and find the cause of these problems as this to me is just breeding further adult criminals and as we have seen lately getting an ASBO is something to show off so demoralising it entirely.

So to conclude I have found that Labour have a lot of strengths in their Youth Policy but have inherent weaknesses which stem from various contradictions in the policy. The strength that I have found are first of all is the duty that has been put into the legislation, which brings various agencies and services together, which unifies them and sets a main agenda that all must adhere to as it is in the legislation to follow the duty and eliminates any confusion that might have existed, and another strength is to support these by the task force which comprises of professionals and people in the field that can offer the best advice.

Also the reparation order is a strength as it forces parents to be responsible as some parents let their children do what they want to and so this is a good way of making parents act so that they can help their children from offending and make them responsible. Then the child safety order, the strength of this is a the combination of the two orders as it can be most effective this way by handing responsibility 2 both parent and child giving maximum results. Then the local child curfew’s strength lies in the way it involves the local community so determining what’s best for the members of their own community. Then there is the final warning where the strength in this lies in the way that it uses various methods simultaneously like community intervention, punishment and rehabilitation which can only increase the chances of success.

Which brings me to secure remands of 12-16 year olds which is also a strength as it recognises that they are still young but this also does contradict other policies in this White Paper which it does on many levels, the detention training programme has strength because it does not just impose a detention where by this can harden the youth and in some cases lead to a life of crime but with the community supervision would let the offender know that they have been given a chance to mend their ways. The forming of the YOTs and YJB is strength as it brings together all the agencies under one roof you could say, and so the aims are understood by all and are the same this can only help, and managerialism is strength as it can be more efficiently run with professionals in charge.

Now I will just conclude my findings of the weaknesses which are; the abolition of the doli incapax to me is a weakness as it manages not to take the child’s age into consideration and this can be seen just by looking at the rest of Europe, are the children in the UK not the same. Another weakness is the ASBO to lock youths in their houses and stop them from going into certain locations can work but does not address the real problem, and Labour could try and find the cause of these problems as this to me is just breeding further adult criminals and as we have seen lately getting an ASBO is something to be proud off and to show off so demoralising the order entirely. There are strengths and weaknesses in this policy but I have found the strengths outweigh the weaknesses.

Bibliography

Home Office, (1997), White Paper, No More Excuses: A new approach to tackling youth crime in England and Wales

Muncie, J. (2009), Youth and Crime, 3rd edition, London, Sage publications

Maguire, M. Morgan, R and Reiner, R. (2002), The Oxford Handbook of Criminology, 3rd Edition, Oxford, Oxford University Press.

Goldson, B. Muncie, J. (2006), Youth Crime and Justice, London, Sage Publications

Baldock, J. Manning, N. and Vickerstaff, S. (2007), Social Policy, 3rd edition, Oxford, Oxford University Press.

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