Youth Justice Reforms: Understanding Policy and Policy Making in Contemporary Government
Dr Anna Souhami’s Leverhulme Research Fellowship (2013-2014) followed recent developments in youth justice policy in England and Wales.
During the Fellowship, Souhami conducted in-depth interviews to determine the nature of youth justice policy, the relationships between institutions and government, the climate and culture of contemporary youth justice, and the legacy of New Labour’s programme of youth justice reforms. Her study’s unique approach has made an original contribution to an understanding of policy and policy making in contemporary government.
The Youth Justice Board (YJB) is a non-departmental public body that is responsible for overseeing the English and Welsh youth justice system. It works to prevent children and young people from offending or reoffending. The YJB also looks after children and young people in custody.
In 2010, the UK Coalition Government announced its decision to abolish the YJB as part of its Public Bodies Act. However, objections across the public sector and an eventual rebellion in the House of Lords resulted in a reprieve for the YJB on the final reading of the Bill. For the moment, the continuation of the YJB has been assured but it is unlikely to remain in its current form.
Souhami’s work has been of significant interest to senior government officials in both the Ministry of Justice and the Youth Justice Board. She has advised the Ministry of Justice on structural reforms to the Youth Justice Board and has been involved in discussions with the Youth Justice Board on the implications of her research findings.
The most important of these findings are:
• A need for academics to increase their understanding of how government officials work including how they make decisions, their structures, and how they respond to expert advice.
• The English and Welsh youth justice system must continue to have a non-departmental public body at its centre: this is the only way to ensure that decision making is child-centred
• The structure of English and Welsh youth justice as an unheralded aspect of New Labour’s reforms.
The relationships developed during Souhami’s fieldwork have opened up prospects of further research and future knowledge exchange activities.
Souhami, A. (2014). The Central Institutions of Youth Justice: Government Bureaucracy and the Importance of the Youth Justice Board for England and Wales. Youth Justice, 14(3), 1-17. 10.1177/1473225414563594
Souhami, A. (2015). Creating the Youth Justice Board: Policy and policy making in English and Welsh Youth Justice. Criminology and Criminal Justice, 15(2), 152-168. 10.1177/1748895814526724 (Available from the Edinburgh Research Explorer)