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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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6 Different paths to youth justice

This is a map of the UK showing the countries in different colours.
Figure 6 A map of the UK.

The trend towards distinctive practice in each of the four jurisdictions that make up the United Kingdom has been accelerating since the end of the twentieth century. In 1998 the Crime and Disorder Act created an ambitious system that funnelled much needed resources into the work people did with children in trouble with the law.

As you saw at the end of Section 2, this came at a price. In that discussion, the price was measured by the unintended consequences of rising numbers of young people in custody. As the system got bigger, so did the number of people drawn into it.

Another part of the price was simply about the money it all cost. It is no coincidence that – after the international financial crisis of 2008, caused by the near-collapse of the banking system, and the subsequent formation of a coalition government in 2010 committed to policies of ‘austerity’ – the youth justice system in England and Wales has shrunk in size dramatically. Other resources and spending on young people have also been reduced in many areas. Economic and political crises can shape policy as much as the fine ideas of energetic practitioners and innovative research by academics.

In England and Wales, new ideas and new priorities have emerged and children, rather than offenders, have come back into the picture. Wales, as a distinct constitutional entity, can justifiably claim to have drawn much of that picture and people are getting more accustomed to there being different approaches to children in trouble with the law. In England and Wales, it’s a story of new ideas and new systems, and possibly further separation of powers. In Scotland, which is the focus of the next session, it is another story altogether.

But before moving on to that story, complete the quiz to help you check your understanding and learning about the issues you’ve covered so far.