Professor Steve Case


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Steve Case

By stephencase, Oct 17 2016 07:29AM

Youth justice is a dynamic study area shaped by a host of influences and influencers (key stakeholders) from political, media, academic, practice and public spheres. Studying youth justice is a challenging and stimulating activity; perhaps the biggest challenge being making sense of the complex, contentious and contradictory knowledge and understandings created by these various influences. I intend to provide you with a series of blogs to help you make sense of this confusion, to make order from chaos. I will give you a framework for understanding the complexity of youth justice. My blogs will outline a clear structure to study of youth justice and a set of arguments that contextualise, demystify and make more accessible this complex topic. I use this structure to guide my youth justice teaching at Loughborough University and as the model for my forthcoming ‘Contemporary Youth Justice’ textbook. Within my Case Studies: Youth Justice blogs (do you get it? I know, it’s clever), I'll unpack the key themes, issues, debates and theories in youth justice from my own subjective, selective (but always evidenced and supported) perspective. My opinions should be used to supplement (not substitute for) your course materials, lecturer advice, practice guidelines and own ideas. I’ll encourage you to study youth justice in a reflective and critical way, to scrutinise knowledge creation (including my arguments!) and to create knowledge of your own. This should be an interactive learning journey.

The Triad of Youth Justice

Youth justice can be understood as a three-part structure or ‘triad’ of definitions, explanations and responses. Firstly, we need to understand how ‘youth justice’ and particularly ‘youth offending’ have been defined - how they have been:

• Socially constructed - created, consolidated, exaggerated and perpetuated by individuals and societies in different places at different times;

• Operationalised - measured and analysed in legal and criminal justice systems, academic research, public opinion surveys and media reports.

Once we have explored the various definitions of youth offending (and youth justice) provided by specific influences at specific times, we can to examine how youth offending has been explained through different academic theories, scholarly arguments, political rhetoric and media representations. It is always interesting to explore differences in explanations between and within these key stakeholder groups and also the degree to which they have been informed by the definitions of ‘youth offending’ that they try to explain. Finally, we must consider how youth offending has been responded to (i.e. via youth justice) - what types of responses (e.g. structures, laws, interventions, programmes, sentences, punishments) constitute youth justice and what kinds of strategies, policies, agendas, principles and philosophies (if any) guide them? Definitions-Explanations-Responses.

The dichotomies of youth justice

At the start of this blog, I promised to simplify/demystify the complexes of youth justice. I hope that my ‘Triad of Youth Justice’ structure of definitions, explanations and responses is a step in the right direction? Let’s take this demystification process further. Youth justice is characterised by several dichotomies or pairs of opposites - essential debates that help you to explore and understand that category more deeply. I’ll address this claim in general terms here and in more detail in future blogs.

Definitions: the ways in which ‘youth offending’ has been defined is a product of an ongoing debate as to whether the behaviour/category is a dynamic social construction (i.e. subjective) or a measurable reality (i.e. objective). This ambivalence reflects historic debates regarding what is ‘crime’. Most theoretical and political explanations take ‘youth offending’ (also known as ‘juvenile delinquency’) for granted as an accepted, objective fact, but its history and development does not support such a lack of criticality, suggesting instead that youth offending is actually a dynamic social construction subject to a variety of academic and non-academic influences. This argument is supported by the historical construction of the ‘child’ as distinct from the ‘adult’ and latterly as distinct from the ‘adolescent’ in cognitive, developmental and physical terms (the child-adult and child-adolescent dichotomies); distinctions that have fed long-standing ambivalence and confusion about how to understand and respond to innocent, vulnerable children who offend, compared to dangerous-threatening adolescents (the angel-devil dichotomy).

Explanations: the way in which youth offending is explained has been similarly dichotomised (fancy academic term - I'll try to avoid these), confused and contradictory. Future blogs will explore how academics and politicians have tried to explain youth offending as the product nature or nurture, deprivation or deprivation, choice or predetermined factors, individual or systemic influences and immorality/irresponsibility or labelling/criminalisation. The answer always seems to have to be one thing or the other, never a suitably complex mixture of both plus other influences. We will also examine how the youth justice knowledge that fuels these dichotomies has been created using research methods that are quantitative or qualitative (the QUAN-QUAL dichotomy) and that seek to understand the real world as constituted by easily measurable, numerical facts or more complex personal constructs/meanings and interpretations (the positivism/realism-constructivism dichotomy). As we critically explore these dichotomies, we are more likely to identify further questions than clear-cut, factual solutions (sorry!), but this is all part of the challenge of youth justice. Which brings us to…. responses.

Responses: the responses to youth offending is the product of a range of academic and (particularly) non-academic influences (e.g. from politics, media, economy), which (to some extent) are shaped by/shape how we define and explain ‘youth offending’. The formal and informal responses that constitute ‘youth justice’ can be explored as a group of dichotomies and debates around (for example) whether to prioritise care or control, welfare or justice, need or risk, community or custodial sentences, protection or punishment and diversion or interventionism. Future blogs will explore these dichotomies, along with the broad dichotomy between the ‘negative’ forms of youth justice (e.g. punishment, risk assessment, interventionism, net-widening) identified by critical youth justice academics such as myself and the more recent ‘positive’ forms of youth justice such as education, restorative justice, children's rights models and my ‘Children First’ approach.

Where to next?

So there we have it - youth justice is a simple triad of mutually-reinforcing, interacting and often competing definitions, explanations and responses. Of course, it's never that simple; there are many connected issues (which we will explore) influencing the triad and its dichotomies (e.g. the fluctuating age of criminal responsibility, the pervading influence of globalisation, cross-cultural differences, economic austerity, ethnicity and gender concerns). It is also feasible that these dichotomies are better understood as ‘continua’ - rather than functioning as black and white, either/or choices or pairs of opposites, they are each more like a dynamic continuum along which definitions, expirations and responses can be positioned at different times. In other words, the dichotomies (e.g. care or control) represent the opposing points of a more fluid scale. By exploring the triad, the dichotomies/continua and their related themes, debates and influences, we will develop a framework for understanding the complexities of youth justice - a framework that should benefit you in your studies and practice.

My next blog will focus on the historical trajectory of definitions of ‘youth offending’, how these have been constructed and what and who has influenced these constructions. The next blog will explore the competing theoretical explanations of youth offending - classical, positivist, critical, realistic and risk factor, followed by a blog looking into the responses to youth offending – the structures, strategies, policies, programs, principles and philosophies that shape and guide youth justice practice. Future blogs would adopt a more specific focus on crucial issues such as the negative ‘new justice’ of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 and positive approaches to youth justice.

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By stephencase, Oct 9 2016 09:11AM

I made two presentations at the 2017 British Society of Criminology conference in Sheffield: the first was based on my 'Criminology' textbook; the second on my forthcoming 'Contemporary Youth Justice' textbook.

My 'Positive Youth Justice' presentation was the invited keynote to the 'Interdisciplinary Conference on Childhood and Youth' at Bangor University in June 2017.

I presented two PYJ sessions at UCBC on November 17th, 2016. The first session 'Negative youth justice to positive youth justice' (1-3pm) was intended for undergraduate students; the second sesssion 'Positive youth justice: Children first, offenders second' (5.30-7pm) was aimed at youth justice practitioners. Both sessions were very well attended and well-received.

By stephencase, Oct 6 2016 11:14AM

Contemporary youth justice has seriously lost its way. An overview of international youth justice systems indicates a melting pot of strategies, structures, perspectives and interventions often bereft of clear purpose and guiding principles. There is no Occam’s Razor for youth justice, no KISS mentality (keep it simple and straightforward). Instead, we have an amorphous mass of multiple aims and methods desperately lacking consensus, continuity and identity – a bulimic system constantly pursuing improvement (often in the form of increased efficiency) through addition rather than reflection. The Youth Justice System (YJS) of England and Wales, for example, illustrates a long-term government project that has painted itself into a corner and exhausted ideas for change, although not the compulsion for change. In the process, it has (to some extent at least) manufactured, sustained and exacerbated the very youth crime ‘problem’ it seeks to address. This blog will explore the reasons for and impact of the negative youth justice that characterises contemporary youth justice systems; a youth justice approach that has sustained and exacerbated the ‘problem’ of youth crime. In my follow-up blog, I’ll offer a progressive solution to the youth crime ‘problem’: Positive Youth Justice.

Creating the youth crime ‘problem’

The concept of ‘youth offending’ is a dynamic social construction – a creation dictated by what society chooses to define as ‘youth’ and ‘offending’ at any given point in time. Explanations of youth offending are influenced by these definitions. Explanations ‘should’ inform response to youth offending (i.e. youth justice). But youth justice is seldom this simple, as I have discovered on my frequent trips out of the ivory tower and into the messy complexity of the youth justice arena. The definitions and explanations of youth offending and the youth justice responses to it often seem to consist of what’s left on the battlefield after frequent clashes between and within political arenas, the media, academia and public opinion. Practice has to pick up the pieces; to make order from the chaos. Competing, contradictory and volatile key stakeholder influences have invented and inflated the extent and nature of youth offending for centuries – creating a ‘problem’ that is allegedly new, increasing and not being solved by current practice, whatever historical period you choose to examine (a recurring theme in youth justice).

In broad terms, the journey to the youth crime ‘problem’ began in the 18th century (post-Industrial Revolution) when society first noticed differences between little adults (children) and adults and so resolved that the ‘child’ should be considered distinct and be treated differently. In the 19th century, the ‘adolescent’ (‘youth’) was identified (largely through the work of positivist criminologists) as an older form of child with physical and psychological differences disposing them to crime. With the creation of the adolescent, offending by (older) children became easier to explain and differentiated responses easier to justify. Society was able to resolve its ambivalence towards ‘normal’ children and offending children through a series of dichotomies:

• The innocent, vulnerable ‘child’ who seldom offended - the dangerous, irresponsible ‘youth’ more likely to offend;

• The child as deprived and in need - the youth as depraved and posing risk;

• The child deserving of care, protection and support (welfare) – the youth requiring control, punishment and reform (justice).

Normal child, problem youth! Our society has perpetually reconciled its various social, political and economic anxieties by projecting them onto a powerless group whose behaviour appears (to adults) to be chaotic and difficult to understand (another recurring theme). The real youth crime ‘problem’ in contemporary youth justice is that we seem to have abolished childhood and detailed consideration of child status for any non-adult who breaks the law. Historically, the age of criminal responsibility has crept incrementally lower and the window of childhood has diminished. Once a child offends, it is as if they immediately become a youth, thus losing their innocence, vulnerability and child status and instantly acquiring the (much over-estimated) maturity, capacity and responsibility of youth (Haines and Case 2015 - Conflating the child and youth further exacerbates an already exaggerated crime problem by artificially creating more individuals to target, arrest, convict, sentence and respond to with intervention – classic net-widening, classic self-fulfilling prophecy (yet another recurring theme!). So what can be done about this? I’d like to start by identifying the main offender in this whole damaging process as a means of justifying my proposed solution.

The irony of risk management: The biggest risk to young people in the YJS

The major changes to the YJS introduced by the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 were a manufactured response to an invented and inflated problem. When the Labour government was elected in 1997, they targeted youth offending because it was supposedly a new problem (it was neither new nor a problem), it was increasing (it wasn’t) and previous youth justice responses hadn’t worked (they had, but effective approaches like diversion had been abandoned as ‘too soft’ by hard-line Tories). And so the problem was framed – the YJS was costly and failing, indicating that society was costly and failing; children, families and communities likewise A new approach was needed. Unfortunately for vulnerable children and skilled practitioners, this new approach was pragmatic, centralised and managerialist (heavily-managed) approach (also reflected in Scotland at that time) rather than welfare-focused, justice-based, child friendly or discretionary. It was, in Barry Golson’s words, a ‘new youth justice’. In order to make the YJS more ‘effective, efficient and economical’, the government prescribed a prevention agenda - no more welfare or justice as priorities. The technical vehicle to pursue this agenda was risk management – assessing and responding to the (predicted, not actualised) risk that children who offend or are assessed as being ‘at risk’ of offending, supposedly present to themselves and others – their risk of offending, reoffending, reconviction or serious harm. Youth and risk became synonymous (Case and Haines 2009 - Risk became synonymous with danger, threat and irresponsibility. Risk and youth needed to be managed. Two harmful issues emerge:

1) Prediction: Understanding and responding to offending through prevention of predicted risk perpetuates a controlling agenda that criminalises, labels and stigmatises children in the YJS, not to mention ‘responding’ to what they might do in the future, not what they have done. Ethics, rights and due process anyone?

2) Prescription: Risk management prioritises preventing negative outcomes through prescribed, technical methods, not promoting the positive through supportive and participatory approaches. Practitioner discretion and engaging children anyone?

Nevertheless, the government nailed its colours to the risk management mast and nothing else would do. Every element of practice was to be obsessively performance managed in pursuit of risk prevention – measured, quantified, inspected, directed and standardised. Soon came ‘National Standards’, ‘Key Performance Indicators’, ‘Key Elements of Effective Practice’ and reams of additional practice guidance, all underpinned by a risk-based, technical, prescriptive model of assessment and intervention. Naturally, this practice guidance is ‘evidence-based’ and proven ‘effective practice’ in the eyes of government. But this is a specious argument because the ‘evidence’ comes from an endless stream of self-fulfilling, repetitive risk factor research studies and experimental, risk-based ‘what works interventions – all cohering to form the ‘Risk Factor Prevention Paradigm’ (assess risk, target it through intervention, solve crime). This paradigm is only one narrow strand of evidence; on the one hand practical, commonsense and replicable (i.e. politically appealing), on the other hand incestuous, pseudo-psychological, Americanised, over-simplified and dehumanising. Privileging this model to the relative exclusion of alternatives (e.g. actually talking to children about their experiences and understandings) hamstrings highly experienced and capable practitioners, pigeon holes their understandings, restricts their responses and invalidates their formal understandings of the real lives of the children they work with and are expected to support. There’s a whole other book in that (Case and Haines 2009 -

However, post-2010 youth justice has also witnessed a re-emergence of positive (arguably principled) practices nationally, thanks largely to a new (coalition) government keen on new approaches (recurring theme alert). We have welcomed back an emphasis on pre-court diversion and its inevitable (yet similarly welcome) positive effects on diminishing numbers of first-time entrants (FTEs) into the YJS and those receiving custodial sentences – reflecting established trajectories from 2008 onwards. Indeed, FTE and custody rates in England and Wales are at their lowest levels since YOTs began in 2000. Whether this progressive evolution has resulted from economic and practical necessities (likely) or considered, principled reflection (less likely) is moot, but it is a welcome reality.

The pursuit of a newer ‘new youth justice’?

Yet the identity crisis of the YJS remains. Progressive measures and highly encouraging statistics have been downplayed/overlooked by an even newer version of the new (2015) Conservative government (now with Theresa May as Prime Minister and Liz Truss as Justice Secretary) keen to make their mark by ‘doing something’ about youth offending (recurring theme). We have further ruthless economic cuts to the budgets of the Youth Justice Board and YOTs, who are now expected to achieve the same impressive results with less (victims of their own success?). These same (ostensibly successful) stakeholders have been subjected to a review by proxy; the Charlie Taylor review of the (ostensibly successful) YJS to find ‘new’ ways of dealing with the (invented and inflated) youth crime ‘problem’. Thus, we have the paradox of reviewing an apparently successful system to identify more effective ways of working. A cynic may view this review as motivated more at least four political, not principled, rationale:

1) wilful government misinterpretation of reoffending statistics (diminishing in number but not percentage);

2) the need to justify further financial cuts;

3) government desire to increasingly subsume the Youth Justice Board into their full control (within the Ministry of Justice);

4) the standard new government push to put their own spin on youth justice practice and to claim credit for any continued successes.

The result, however, is another directionless government perpetuating a directionless YJS – with children and practitioners left to fend for themselves with constantly changing guidance and diminishing resources.

Principled practice by stealth?

So where does that leave us? Political, administrative, media and economic expedience and self-serving agendas in the 21st century have superseded the need to fully consider the child and the realities of their life, wherein offending is just one part of a broader complex. Less ‘children first’ and more children nowhere. The most troubling aspect of this situation is the absence of explicit, consistent principles from contemporary youth justice practice in this modern obsession to manage, measure and control. Where have these practice principles gone – have they been rejected, lost, forgotten, underestimated, deliberately marginalised? We are left with a YJS that has lost its identity, values, purpose, empathy and connection with its key stakeholders – children, practitioners (from youth offending teams/YOTs) and policy makers (from local authorities, from the resourceful and expert Youth Justice Board expected to guide and manage the YJS). Crucially, however, these key stakeholders haven’t lost their values or their connection with one another. Principled, progressive, positive youth justice practice is visible locally across England and Wales, often as a bolt-on to or mediated version of governmental practice requirements or as innovative under the radar wheeler dealing where practice is untested.

The fact that there is a wealth of positive practice that sustains and expands across the United Kingdom (e.g. diversion, restorative justice, YOT-police and YOT-university partnerships, participatory mechanisms) is testament to the expertise and values of key stakeholders and their overriding desire for positive outcomes for children who offend. Therefore, all is not lost in our ambition for a positive youth justice. The groundwork has been done and the appetite is there, as is the personnel and (some of the) processes. The government wants a new direction, the YJS needs a new direction. This new direction needs to be ‘evidence-based’, but the government has privileged the collection of risk-based evidence to the relative exclusion of evidencing alternatives, certainly until the recent inception of AssetPlus, which marks a significant government retreat from their traditional risk obsession, but not from excessive managerialism (Haines and Case 2015 - We appear to have a Catch 22, until we remember the innovative and motivated key stakeholders across the YJS who pursue progressive youth justice practice on a daily basis. Enter Positive Youth Justice: Children First, Offenders Second.

By Admin, Sep 21 2016 10:23AM

I presented an invited talk entitled ‘Positive Youth Justice: Children First, Offenders Second’ to the Centre for Youth and Criminal Justice at the University of Strathclyde on October 20, 2016. The link to the event website and the advertising blurb is below. The talk was very well-attended and well-received. Photos from the event will appear here soon.

CYCJ and the School of Social Policy and Social Work at the University of Strathclyde are hosting a free seminar event ‘Positive Youth Justice: Children First, Offenders Second’ as part of the School of Social Policy and Social Work Seminar Series 2016/2017. Featuring guest speaker Professor Stephen Case from Loughborough University, the event will commence at 4pm (for a 4.30pm start) on October 20 in the Collins Suite, Collins Building, University of Strathclyde.

If you would like to attend, please email

Seminar abstract

The Children First, Offenders Second (CFOS) model evolves youth justice beyond its contemporary risk focus and promotes a positive, principled, progressive and practical approach to the treatment of children in the Youth Justice System.

The measurement, assessment and improvement of the risk children present to themselves and others underpins and drives contemporary youth justice processes. However, the utility of the risk paradigm has been over-stated and is incapable of sustaining the faith placed in it as the guiding principle for animating youth justice practice. Nevertheless, there is at present no consensus about what approach to youth justice should or can replace risk as the driver of policy and practice.

In his seminar, Professor Case will outline the CFOS model as a manifesto for changing the Youth Justice System – a modern, economic-normative paradigm founded on central guiding principles for positive youth justice practice – child-friendly and child-appropriate, rights-focused treatment, diversion, inclusionary prevention, participation and engagement, legitimacy, the promotion of positive behaviour and outcomes, evidence-based partnership, systems management and the responsibilisation of adults. CFOS is a blueprint for a distinctive, principled, progressive approach to working with children; one that can be adopted and adapted by local authority areas throughout England and Wales, and by other nation states across the UK, Europe and beyond.

The evolution, trajectory and practical realisation of CFOS positive youth justice will be discussed with evidence from a 20 year programme of associated reflective research in Swansea, and the emerging success of an integrated, holistic and child-friendly delivery model in Surrey.