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Welfare Versus Punishment

The development of juvenile justice in Scotland has been characterised by debates around the appropriate treatment of young people who break the law. On the one hand, welfarist imperatives have sought to protect and improve the well-being of the individual young person; while on the other, punitive compulsions have been aimed at protecting and defending broader societal or public interest concerns (McAra and McVie 2014). The 1908 Children Act, for example, restricted the use of imprisonment for young offenders, but retained penal servitude as a means of dealing with those considered “truly depraved and unruly” and whipping was retained as a disposal for children (Gelsthorpe and Morris 1994). Reform of juvenile justice remained piecemeal and torn between welfarism and criminal justice imperatives until the 1960s, until a major review was commissioned by the Secretary of State for Scotland. The resultant Kilbrandon Committee Report (1964) laid the groundwork for an innovative new system of juvenile justice that remains in place today.

Charged with finding solutions to the rise in the rate of juvenile delinquency in post-World War 2 Scotland, the Kilbrandon Committee found that most cases coming before the juvenile courts on offence grounds also had underlying care issues and, moreover, most of their offences were trivial in nature. In a significant departure from the adjudication and punishment model of court-based juvenile justice that prevailed in Scotland (and other parts of the UK) at that time, the Kilbrandon Committee proposed an integrative welfare-oriented approach, and recommended a single system of civil jurisdiction for young people brought before the courts for offending, for those beyond parental control and for those in need of care and protection (Batchelor and Burman 2009). A key message from the Kilbrandon Committee Report was that young people who offend should be seen as no different from those in need of care and protection because both groups of young people are affected by similar problems. It recommended that appropriate interventions should be put in place at an early stage and in a way that supported the young person’s general well-being to avoid criminalising and stigmatising young people through unnecessary court-based intervention.

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