Responding to Youth Crime: Reconnecting the Disconnected

Jonathan Evans

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    This article considers the nature of young people’s ofending and refects on how our respective societies should respond to such “criminal” behaviour. notwithstanding the political, social and cultural diversity of Europe, it is argued here that there are universal principles which should underpin our response. These principles are informed by an explicit commitment to social solidarity, human rights and a belief that the much‑maligned “state” has a critical role to play in ensuring young people remain connected with wider society.
    The article opens with an initial discussion of the main arguments for treating children diferently from adults. This includes consideration of recent neuroscientifc research on the development of the adolescent brain.
    It is argued that – irrespective of national, local or cultural context – human rights should provide the framework within which young people should be treated; not only within the domain of criminal justice, but also in relation to health, welfare and social justice. Indeed, it is one of the central arguments of this article that disconnection from social welfare rights can lead to a profoundly damaging and stigmatising connection with the criminal justice system. It is the view of this author that contact with the formal criminal justice system risks having a toxic efect on young people and should therefore be avoided wherever possible. However, it is also acknowledged that despite the genuinely noble impulses which undoubtedly animate welfare provision, the efects of contact with some forms of welfare are not always benign. A young person caught in the full glare of the welfare spotlight can sometimes be as at risk of harm as a client of the criminal justice system. The well‑meaning practitioner’s
    assessment can, for example, result in the application of a stigmatising diagnostic label that will subsequently inform an unhelpful risk assessment in the criminal justice system. In other cases therapeutic optimism can lead to harmful therapies. Connections between the domains of welfare and criminal justice can, therefore, be problematic, even when justifed in the interests of “joined‑up” services. Young people can, in some circumstances, become so entangled in the welfare and criminal justice systems that their long‑term interests are probably best served by complete disconnection from
    both domains; although such benign neglect sometimes risks being experienced by young people as malign indiference (Drakeford and Williamson 1998).
    Perspectives on youth Page 86 It does not have to be this way, of course, but the risks posed to young people by such powerful systems and agencies have to be understood fully in order to lay the foundations for ethical and evidence‑based practice with young people who break the law. Such practice, it is argued, should be based on recognition of the issue of maturity, high levels of diversion from the criminal justice system, non‑stigmatising interventions that support desistance processes and the rebinding of frayed social bonds.
    The article draws on an approach to youth justice currently being developed in
    Wales (UK) within the philosophy of progressive universalism (Davies and Williams 2009; Drakeford 2010; Williams 2011). Readers will, nevertheless, recognise in this approach ideas, values and models drawn from many other places. Indeed, there are references to other parts of Europe as well as other continents. This is not, however, a detailed comparative study. The diversity of policy and practice between nation states in Europe is acknowledged, as is the diversity within nation states. Indeed, it is a feature of youth justice across the globe that many diverse local initiatives and models of practice develop and fourish, often without the guidance or intervention of central government. This is perhaps indicative of the importance of local neighbourhoods, communities and institutions in taking responsibility for their young people. It is also possibly because practitioner‑led interventions at ground level have long played a key part in the development of creative practice. Out of these diverse experiences of practice, however, it is believed that certain universal principles can be applied across diverse social, political and cultural terrains.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)85-102
    JournalPerspectives on Youth
    Publication statusPublished - 31 Dec 2014


    • Youth Crime
    • adolescent brain
    • young people
    • youth justice
    • young offenders


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