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A Punitive Phase of Juvenile Justice

The framing of juvenile justice in terms of welfare values remained a relatively stable feature of Scottish policy for over a quarter of a century. The period since the mid-1990s, however, marks arguably the most turbulent phase in Scottish juvenile justice history. This began with the Children (Scotland) Act 1995 which introduced a new statutory framework placing the principle of public protection above that of the best interests of the child in cases where the child presented a significant risk to the public. Responsibility for the CHS was removed from Scottish local authorities and a single Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration (SCRA) was created to manage and administer the CHS. However, the Act empowered the court to substitute decisions for that of the CHS in disputed cases, whereas previously it could only make recommendations or discharge a case. These legislative changes impacted significantly on the practical and philosophical principles underpinning juvenile justice in Scotland.

Political change in Scotland was to have an even greater impact on juvenile justice. Following the election of the ‘New Labour’ UK Government in 1997, public interest discourse penetrated the CHS as issues of juvenile justice became increasingly caught up in a set of social inclusion and crime prevention agendas driven by the government (see McAra and McVie 2014). Following political devolution[1] and the creation of a Scottish Parliament in 1999, Scotland witnessed a steady flow of new policies, legislative changes and initiatives targeted at children and young people. This included an overt political commitment to a more punitive approach to youth offending (McAra 2006). Government policies around social inclusion and crime prevention were driven as much by a community and victim-centred ethos as the child-centred ethos that had characterised the juvenile justice system between 1968 and the mid-1990s. As a result, the primary concern of juvenile justice policy shifted from the social and personal needs of young people to a focus on the nature and frequency of their offences.

In a process that has been referred to as ‘de-tartanisation’ (McAra 2006), children identified as being at risk of offending became subject to high levels of scrutiny and surveillance and the Scottish system increasingly came to reflect the much more punitive and managerialist juvenile justice systems of England and Wales. There was a strong focus on reducing persistent offending and anti-social behaviour by legislating to enable the use of civil orders to tackle low level crime and disorder, and a new youth court model was reintroduced to Scotland which reflected the government’s position that “punishment is a key part of the youth justice process” (Scottish Executive 2005a). Such policies were deeply unpopular amongst juvenile justice practitioners and, as we shall see later, government efforts to tackle the perceived problem of youth crime by creating a set of performance targets for the juvenile justice system was undermined by evidence that it had actually exacerbated the problem (McAra and McVie 2010, 2014).

  • [1] The process by which powers on devolved matters were transferred from Westminster to ScottishMinisters. For further information on the process of devolution and its implications on Scottishcriminal and juvenile justice, see Scott and Mooney (2015) and McVie (forthcoming).
 
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