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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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Session 7: It’s all about class


This is cartoon of Winston Churchill.
Figure 1 War time prime minister and British national icon Winston Churchill expresses his point of view on the imprisonment of the working classes.

The social class a child is born into, and their parents’ level of education and health, are major determinants of their life chances (Dorling, 2018). Winston Churchill, like many white people of aristocratic background who feel safe in their elevated position in society, was sharply aware of the class structure of society, but less prone to deny its existence and effects than the generations of Conservative MPs that have followed. He enthusiastically defended its hierarchies and was a self-confessed white supremacist (Valluvan, 2019), but his unfiltered insights on the dynamics of the class system in the UK still ring true today at the start of the twenty-first century.

Churchill probably had in mind behaviour influenced by alcohol, perhaps contrasting beer-fuelled behaviour against the antics of a few champagne-drenched university graduates (Rutherford, 2002). These class contrasts remain, though the differences today are as likely to be between crack and cocaine as between beer and champagne. At least two Conservative Party government ministers confessed in 2019 to taking cocaine but have not been prosecuted while youth prisons are full of young men whose behaviour was propelled by crack or heroine dependency, or the rewards of trading in its illicit markets.

In this session, the learning activities focus on how a young person’s class background shapes their experience of crime and criminal justice.

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Session 7 introduction
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By the end of this session, you should be able to:

  • identify ways in which poverty and social class influence young people’s experiences of crime and criminal justice
  • recognise how the dynamics of social class operate in the youth justice system and what is being done to address them
  • understand how economic inequality impacts on youth justice issues.