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The criminalisation of children Is the youth justice system criminogenic? Professor John Drew C.B.E.

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Presentation on theme: "The criminalisation of children Is the youth justice system criminogenic? Professor John Drew C.B.E."— Presentation transcript:

1 The criminalisation of children Is the youth justice system criminogenic? Professor John Drew C.B.E

2 The criminalisation of children Criminalisation is a matter of choice Six dimensions for thinking about the criminalisation of children Lessons from the Edinburgh study Has the youth justice system been guilty of unnecessarily criminalising children? What progress has been made in the last fifteen years? What more can be done to address these challenges? Wider lessons

3 Criminalisation is a matter of choices “Derived from labelling theory, criminalisation refers to the institutionalised processes that define and classify specific behaviours and acts as ‘criminal’. In youth justice it relates to processes that formally transform ‘children’ into ‘young offenders’.” (Goldson ed. 2008)

4 Six dimensions for thinking about the criminalisation of children Ethics The Neurosciences, Psychology, and Sociology Selective criminalisation Human rights Cost and value for money Counter productive?

5 Ethics The extent to which children can and should be held responsible for their actions is partially an ethical issue History of the ‘age of criminal responsibility’ in England and Wales’ –Prior to – – –1969 plan to extend the age to 14 and restrict prosecution under 18 Abolition of ‘Doli incapax’in 1998 – ‘No more excuses’ The impact of new developments in neurosciences

6 The Neurosciences, Psychology, and Sociology Each of these sciences has views about maturation. New developments in neurosciences cast particular doubts on whether children should be criminalised at 10. “There’s now incontrovertible evidence that the brain continues to develop throughout adolescence” (Professor Nicholas Mackintosh, Neuroscience and the Law, Royal Society, 2011) Particular focus on: –Risk taking –Deception –Pain –Memory

7 Selective criminalisation Research continues to show that despite our best endeavours groups of children are treated differently by the youth justice system Disadvantaged and distressed families Disadvantaged and distressed neighbourhoods Black and certain minority ethnic communities Girls (for certain behaviours)

8 Human rights The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child framework challenges aspects of the criminalisation of children Article 3 – Best interests of the child must have primacy Article 37 – Children in custody must be held separated from adults Article 39 – Abused children must receive special help to help them recover Article 40 – Custody should be used as a last resort

9 Cost and value for money Criminalisation of children can be very costly and can produce poor outcomes Child imprisonment costs on average £90k per child per year 69.3% of all children imprisoned will go on to reoffend within a year of leaving custody 5.5 children in every 100 in custody will self-harm while in custody 11.1 children in every 100 in custody will be assaulted

10 Counter productive? Criminalisation can make behaviour worse by stigmatising and labelling children, altering the way they behave and the way others behave towards them “I looked down at all the judges and that, and I thought ‘youse think I’m shite so I’m going to show you just how shite I can be” (16 year old in a Young Offender Institution) “It’s not that children who offend are ‘hard to reach’ really, it’s that they are ‘easy to forget’” (Anne Marie Carrie)

11 The Edinburgh study of offending by children The resarch of Professors L. McAra and S.McVie,‘the Edinburgh study’, casts important light on the criminalisation of children Study of 4,380 children who were 12 in 1998, and then followed up over 16 years Four key findings –“Persistent serious offending is associated with victimisation and social adversity –“Early identification of ‘at-risk’ children is not a water-tight process and may be iatronic –“Critical moments in the early teenage years are key to pathways out of offending –“Diversionary strategies facilitate the desistance process”

12 Has the youth justice system been guilty of unnecessarily criminalising children? The creation in 1998 of the current youth justice system initially criminalised more children although these trends reversed in the mid 2000s and numbers are now at an all time low Proven offences by children rose to a high in 2005/6 – over 300,000 p.a. First time entrants rose to a high in 2006/7 – over 100,000 p.a. Numbers of children imprisoned reached a high of 3,200 in October 2002 Proven offences and first time entrants are now 70% lower Child imprisonment in 2013/14 has averaged 1,248.

13 What progress has been made in the last fifteen years? The fall in criminalisation of children is principally linked to policy changes and concerted national and local leadership The adoption by New Labour of a more’ child focussed’ approach to youth justice The adoption by the Coalition of policies to reduce ‘wasteful’ expenditure on child custody Emphasis on both national and local leadership The ‘rediscovery’ of the importance of diversion A new focus on ‘the best interests of the child’

14 Has less criminalisation led to more offending by children? None of these advances would represent progress if crime by children was rising. But there is no evidence that it is. It is also critical that a fully operating youth justice system remains in existence to respond to those children whose offending threatens public safety and patience

15 What more can be done to address these challenges? The lessons of similar progress in previous decades shows this can be fragile. Further steps are needed to entrench this advance. Should the ‘age of criminal responsibility’ be reviewed? Building credibility around diverting children from the criminal justice system The use of restorative justice in the response to offending by children Opening up the courts, legal processes, and the operation of the system so each is understandable … … and observable

16 Lessons for the whole criminal justice system 1.Reductions in the number of children being processed through the youth justice system reduces the numbers of young adults in the criminal justice system – saving money and reducing wasted lives 2.Progress requires concerted and explicit national and local leadership centred around multi-agency and multi-professional cooperation 3.Governments alone cannot make this work 4.Decriminalisation works, it can improve lives without threatening public safety

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