Source: (2004) Crime and Justice. 31: 1-20.

This essay explores the variation that exists in the eight jurisdictions discussed in this volume. Section I describes one of the most important single facts about youth justice systems: a separate youth justice system is not necessary to ensure that youths are dealt with differently than are adults processed in the adult system. Section II outlines the complexity of the age limits of youth justice systems. Youth justice systems in many countries were quite stable until roughly 1970 or so. In the latter part of the twentieth century, however, many experienced changes, sometimes quite rapid, and often quite unprincipled. These changes are discussed in Section III. Section IV describes one aspect of the changes that took place in many countries—how various jurisdictions reconciled the tension between welfare principles and criminal law or punishment principles. Finally, in Section V, we note the contrasts between law in books and law in action. Understanding any youth justice system requires one to look not only at the formal legal structure but at how it operates in practice. (excerpt)