Academic journal article British Journal of Community Justice

Law and Order Conservatism and Youth Justice: Outcomes and Effects in Canada and England and Wales

Academic journal article British Journal of Community Justice

Law and Order Conservatism and Youth Justice: Outcomes and Effects in Canada and England and Wales

Article excerpt


In Canada and the UK, law and order conservatism has for more than a decade been a preeminent political discourse in the conceptualization of youth crime. More than ten years ago both countries introduced new legislation with the aim of reducing youth offending; the approaches were underpinned by similar views of young people and law and order. However, despite these similarities both countries followed different trajectories and experienced differential outcomes and successes.

This paper explores how changes within the Youth Justice Systems in Canada and England and Wales had unintended consequences in both countries and considers whether these could have been foreseen had theoretical injunctions, practice knowledge and research findings been differently utilized. We also discuss whether the impact of the precepts of law and order conservatism has been to increase the number of young people in custody despite falling crime rates. The legislation and practices within the Youth Justice Systems form the immediate concern of this paper; the focus is on the initial intentions which drove the policy and practice changes and some of the negative consequences which appear to have arisen as a result of the effects on practice - thus the implementation of that legislation and policy.

The evolution of the Crime and Disorder Act (CDA) (1998) in England and Wales and the Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA) (2002) in Canada and their additional and supporting pieces of legislation and policy have been comprehensively dealt with elsewhere (Bala, 2003; Dugmore & Pickford, 2007; Goldson & Muncie, 2008; Tustin & Lutes, 2012; Arnull, 2013). There are also considerable differences in youth justice practice between England and Wales and Canada, and within the provinces and territories of Canada. This reflects a complexity in referring to the Canadian youth justice system as homogenous as the YCJA is federal legislation that is enacted at the provincial and territory level by local governments. This means that implementation is also a variable practice, for example whilst in England and Wales there are multidisciplinary Youth Offending Teams (YOTs), in Canada some regions have dedicated youth probation services or social services that undertake that remit. However, these variations while interesting are not the focus of this paper.

One of the negative effects that resulted from implementation of the CDA (1998) in England and Wales was that the changes introduced had impacts which led to more stigmatisation and labelling of young people; this was in part because more young people were drawn into the system and because of an atmosphere of moral outrage and blame. Consequences such as these are ones which have potential import for Canada. Labelling (Cohen, 2002) may affect all young people but has potentially even greater resonance for those living in smaller communities; it is also relevant in regard to the realisation of children's rights for example, those under the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). This paper explores how the underlying law and order conservatism, which was a shaping and defining feature of youth justice policy in England and Wales and Canada, influenced the different policy structures created. We argue therefore that cultural and political influences can affect implementation in ways which are initially unforeseen and therefore unconsidered by those devising or lobbying for the policy (Levin, 1997; Arnull, 2013) and that a key feature which affects this is the underlying political and cultural 'tone' which affects public policy - in this case, law and order conservatism.

The introduction of new legislation

Initially, the CDA (1998)4 aimed to reduce police officer and practitioner discretion and established a more procedural youth justice system. In Canada however the YCJA (2002) sought to enhance discretion (where practical). It allowed for a three stage referral process that meant that police officers could refer young people pre charge, crown prosecutors could refer post charge and judges could refer at the sentencing stage of the legal process to programs outside of the system. …

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