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State of Transition: Convergence and Diversity in International Youth Justice.

Muncie, John
June 4, 2015

Source: (2006) In, John Muncie and Barry Goldson, eds., Comparative Youth Justice, London: Sage Publications. PP 196-218.

This chapter identifies complimentary and contradictory themes in contemporary international juvenile justice reform. Throughout Western societies, recent juvenile justice reforms mark a divorce from the child welfare approaches of the past and toward a dual commitment to punish persistent young offenders while attempting to prevent offending through early intervention with at-risk groups. Despite this significant convergence in international juvenile justice policy, national differences still exist and revolve mainly around the political willingness to sustain welfare protectionism of the child offender. The authors discuss the decline of welfare protectionism in the 1980s when critics first argued that the juvenile justice system should function to control young offenders rather than simply care for them. This shift from welfare to justice based philosophies ushered in a concern for the due process rights of juvenile offenders as specialized children’s courts were either dismantled or injected with more punitive policies and practices. The United States is offered as an example of how juvenile justice practices have taken on an increasingly punitive tone. International incarceration rates are examined, which have largely risen despite the rhetoric of crime prevention through early intervention. The authors illustrate how, in many Western countries, there has been a political swing to the far right, fueled mainly by public fears over burgeoning youth violence (which has been largely unsupported by official crime statistics). The result is that juvenile justice policies have become increasingly radicalized, particularly as many countries import United States initiatives such as zero tolerance policies and a focus on risk management. There remain examples, however, of countries that have retained elements of non-punitiveness and have successfully decreased their rates of juvenile incarceration, such as Australia, Finland, and Italy. Additionally, recent years have witnessed an explosion in the use of restorative justice practices and in the protection of children’s rights, creating a unique hybrid of punitive and restorative juvenile justice ideologies. (Abstract courtesy of the National Criminal Justice Reference Service,


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