....The objective of this paper is to consider this issue from several perspectives which, taken together, suggest that the expectation that the problem of offending by young people can be solved by coercion and control is essentially illusory. While it may serve some political agendas to rouse public fears (as the mass media persistently do) and to proffer what sound like hard hitting measures in response, the reality is that all too often these are misleading and fruitless courses of action. Their prominence in law and order debates has magnified the problem and detracted from options that offer a better prospect of constructing a system of youth justice that is both effective and humane.

What follows is divided into four sections. The first section briefly summarises basic evidence concerning the circumstances of youth justice in England and Wales, drawing on relevant comparative data in as digestible a form as possible.

The second provides a more systematic overview of research findings on the outcomes of different kinds of direct work with young people who have repeatedly broken the law.

The third section considers why the kinds of approaches most familiar in the law and order debate – the application of punitive sanctions – do not have the impact they are generally purported to have despite their widespread acceptance.

Finally, there will be discussion of how to bridge the present gap between research findings and effective practice, and the implications of doing so for wider policy formulation.

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