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Youth justice in the UK: children, young people and crime
Youth justice in the UK: children, young people and crime

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2 Getting to know the youth justice system

A dice with the sides labelled as ‘suspect’, ‘offender’ and ‘defendant’ and another dice labelled as ‘child’.
Figure 2 A child first and last.

The system established in 1998 by the Labour government’s Crime and Disorder Act survives more or less intact in the twenty-first century. Some minor changes were introduced by the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 and the coalition government formed in 2010 passed the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 with some further changes but the main structures established in 1998 remain in place.

To give you some idea of the complexity of the system, the next activity presents you with a process chart to map the possible journeys a child could take if they were to get into trouble with the police.

Activity 2 Going with the flow

Timing: Allow approximately 20 minutes for this activity

Take a look at the following flow chart.

This is a flowchart showing the various ways a child can move through the youth justice system, starting with Arrest, Police custody, PACE (Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984) interview) and Police decision. Other key parts of the journey include Youth court, Crown Court and the journey ends include Youth Offender Panel and contract, Reparation order, Youth Rehabilitation Order and Community supervision.

A key is provided to the various acronyms on the chart. As you will see the process map starts with an arrest and a number of different journeys through the system can result.

Find on the map: Youth Court, The Detention and Training Order and YOI. Make a few notes about each one. Spend 10 minutes tracing the routes someone might make from arrest to YOI.

Make a record of unfamiliar words, phrases or terminology. Any profession tends to develop and use its own vocabulary but making a note of strange terms now will help you recognise them more easily in future.

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Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).


As you can now appreciate, the youth justice system is complex and extensive. It is a structure that practitioners become familiar with through training and regular practice. Even so, parts of it are harder to get to know than others. Youth Courts, for example, are not open to the public so as to protect the privacy of young people and their families. Young Offender Institutions can sometimes be remote from the places where the young people in them actually live. The language of court sentences and youth justice procedures can come to dominate young people’s lives, obscuring other features of their lives and circumstances. If you found it difficult to understand the operation of the system, consider what it might be like trying to explain it to a 12 or 13 year old child. Or how they may feel about it themselves.

The establishment of the youth justice system was a significant achievement but the positive changes it was designed to develop have not always been forthcoming. The next section considers why it may not have lived up to expectation.