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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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3 Class: intersections, contexts and convictions

Charlie’s life may take a number of different turns. Some of those will be shaped by the interventions from the systems responding to his problematic and harmful behaviour. A case study like this inevitably focuses on an individual, and while Charlie’s future is going to be shaped by his actions, the range of possibilities open to him is powerfully shaped by where he lives, why he lives there and the institutions and services available to him. These social circumstances can easily slip out of view if he is the only object of concern.

Social expectations of gender may have pushed him towards cars and driving, and the peer group he associates with. His ethnicity and race relations in his locality will also have shaped his early life. Charlie’s class background will have helped to determine the school he went to, the food and health services available to him as an infant, the home he was raised in and the horizons in front of him.

The social profile of ‘young offenders’ in each of the four jurisdiction of the UK, and most other industrialised countries, tend to look the same. They are likely to be from low-income households, have low levels of educational attainment and/or be in low paid employment or unemployed. Typically, a young person’s class situation is recognisable from their geographical location in terms of housing, the capacity of their parent/s to provide material support, the type of school they attend (private or state) and the kind of employment or labour market opportunities they are likely to find. Class-based inequalities are deeply entrenched in each and every part of the UK creating structural disadvantages and different opportunities that shape the lived experience of someone like Charlie. Youth justice services tend not to be focused on these determining contexts but on the individuals presented to them by the priorities of criminal justice. As important as these services may be, they fail when they become dislocated from actions, policies and practice promoting social justice.

The remaining activities in this session explore how criminal justice works around agendas that might make problems worse rather than better for young people.