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Book Review: Youth Justice in Practice, Making a Difference

June 2, 2009
Youth Justice in Practice, Making a Difference, by Bill Whyte
Policy Press Social Work in Practice Series
Great Britain         2009,    240 pages,   paperback

The Social Work Practice series from the Policy Press in the U.K. now has a valuable 2009 addition to the offering of social work and youth justice UK textbooks. The index alone tips off the reader on the broad range of topics, both common UK practice and recent innovation. The one page preface is a succinct map to lay out what lies ahead. Restorative justice, while not the major theme is certainly supported in several chapters.

Each of the nine chapters includes a casework example (a vignette) as well as a list of test questions and suggestions for further reading. From page one the United Nations guidelines or standards are offered as foundational benchmarks. The themes include effective practice, pre-school and prevention, early intervention, assessment, electronic monitoring, prosocial activity or resilience building, restorative justice without net widening, Olweus Bullying programs, wraparound home based services, and the integration of social welfare with what constitutes juvenile justice.

Intellectual integrity (a.k.a. critical analysis’s) is encouraged through the words expressed related to the use of ‘off the shelf’ assessment tools, boot camp experiments, and most any residential care or confinement. The author notes that the UK detains (confines) more youth than any other European nation. And, the U.S., like the U.K., may go even further in violating the UN ‘mandate’ to only incarcerate (page 152) as a “last resort” and only “after appropriate forms of intensive  community based intervention have been implemented.”  In other words, some of the ‘best practices’ in some youth services settings may not measure up to the often vague suggestions that we say guide our state and national policies, practices and procedures.  The use of ‘evidence based’ interventions and programs is encouraged in this academic offering.

A highlight for the English language reader who is not British, Welsh, or Scottish is the suggestion that we might be wise to measure just how well we deliver humane prevention, intervention and treatment services by the above hinted at United Nations guidelines. Who even knew that the United Nations, specifically the High Commission for Human Rights addressed these topics in the proposed 54 articles of the 1989 Rights of the Child document? By 1995, no less than 185 countries had ratified the articles.   One criticism is that one must dig or Google or search in order to learn more about UNCRC or the U.N. Commission which still oversees compliance. 

Wythe is writing a book for students in the 21st century and provides some, but perhaps too few, web sites. The only site noted related to the International standards is the cursory Scottish  On there other hand, the 24-page list of references is both current and thorough. Many of the citations are books and journals from London, Glasgow, Edinburg, Cambridge and Oxford. However, the restorative justice works in N.American (Umbriet, Bazemore, Braithwaite) and in Australia-New Zealand (Maxwell, Morris, Daly, Sherman,  )  as well as the U.S.Dept. of Justice article-publications are appropriately cited in the short segment sharing and supporting  restorative justice.


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