the criminology and criminal justice network
In England and Wales, the Youth Justice System appears to be in a fluid state that is full of controversy, ironies and contradictions, as well as being made up of continuously shifting alliances between policies and practises of the ‘authoritarian, the restorative, the retributive and the productive’ (Muncie, J. 2009: 387). The causes of such fluidity can be attributed to the media’s exacerbations and sensationalisations of certain aspects of youth culture and supposed criminality. Since the 1950’s, the public have been living in fear of their young, fuelled by the medias exaggerations and the government and local authorities over targeting of youth criminality. The now ‘demonised’ youth in England and Wales face the ramifications of such a punitive society. Hough and Roberts (2005: 218) found that the ‘consequences of such labelling and stigmatisation include a far more punitive society with regards to general sentencing preferences for young offenders.’
The labels that children and young people now have to bear are largely; unjustified, harmful and potentially damming to the lives of young people. These labels have been applied by an; irrational, fearful, stubborn and uneducated public, with regards to criminality and the work of the youth justice system. For example ‘several findings from international research on the public’s opinions and attitudes of youth criminality and sentencing found that; firstly, most people automatically consider the use of prison to be the primary disposition of the youth justice system, and that their knowledge of alternative sanctions, and their strengths, is poor’ (Hough, M., Roberts, J. 2005: 222). As shown in Hough and Robert’s (2005: 221) study; the public will consider alternative sanctions for young offenders if they receive a little more information on the offender’s circumstances and on the offence itself.
The punitive and retributive attitudes of the public in England and Wales stem from various exacerbating factors, all of which could be seen to be unjustifiable. However, with the occurrence of a number of tragic events, such as; the murders of James Bulger 1993, and the Edlington torture and attempted murder case in 2009, the public hold the concepts of retribution, just deserts, deterrence and incapacitation as the only effective means of dealing with youth criminality at all levels. Contrary to popular belief; the concept of community and victim involvement in the justice system can bring a great ‘feeling of satisfaction, fulfilment and personal growth as communities and victims feel empowered’ (Communities and Local Governments. 2008: 22).
We can now hope to see that our current 2011 Coalition government will give the young people of England and Wales, the ‘Fresh Start’ that they most desperately require; The 2010 Green Paper, Breaking the Cycle, introduces a number of new initiatives to empower the community and make the justice systems more dedicated to working for and with the public rather than for the state and general interests of the nation. These initiatives are based on the concepts of ‘Punishment and Payback’, allowing for the public to benefit directly from the punishments given to young offenders, either as a whole by community sentences or directly and individually through restorative justice methods. They will do this by; ‘introducing working prisons, to engage prisoners in work to financially pay back victims and cover other costs they may have incurred, by increasing the use of tougher curfews and electronic tagging methods, introducing more intensive and immediate community payback sentences, and finally, creating a duty for all sentences to implement some form of restorative payback when there is a clear victim to an offence’ (Ministry of Justice. 2010: 9 – 10). Hopefully, in the coming years we will see further reductions in juvenile offending as a result of a restorative, community focused, rehabilitative, intensive, immediate and focused youth justice system. Hopefully, this is the “fresh start” that we have so long been waiting for:
“The damaged lives of those who become our most serious and prolific offenders, and the high price that falls to society when we fail them, offers the last and most compelling reason why the time has come for a fresh start” (Independent Commission on Youth Crime and Anti-Social Behaviour. 2010: 110)
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