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Welfare in Crisis?: Key Developments in Scottish Youth Justice.

McAra, Lesley
June 4, 2015

Source: (2006) In, John Muncie and Barry Goldson, eds., Comparative Youth Justice, London: Sage Publications. PP 127-145.

This chapter reviews the history of the Scottish juvenile justice system and analyzes recent reforms. The Scottish juvenile justice system, which enjoyed a high degree of stability from the 1970s through the mid-1990s, has recently undergone significant changes. Despite the inclusion of restorative practices in Scotland’s juvenile justice system, the author warns that youth justice is in danger of losing its distinctive Scottish identity: the protection of children. The Scottish juvenile justice system has historically been based on the Kilbrandon philosophy that the problems of children who offended or were in need of protection stemmed from the same source: failures in the upbringing process and/or broader social ills. A central feature of juvenile justice from the 1970s through the mid-1990s was the children’s hearing system, which considered the best interests of the child as paramount to the disposition. The author contends that a moral panic concerning persistent young offenders and anti-social behavior among youth during the 1990s has ushered in a new era of juvenile justice in Scotland, one that is underpinned by a complex set of penal rationales that, in some cases, locate the interest of society above the interest of the child. The key themes of recent juvenile justice reforms are described, which include a focus on crime prevention and risk management as well as increased system accountability. Police powers have been expanded to allow for the containment of anti-social behaviors, which has had a “net-widening” effect in terms of increasing juvenile contact with the formal justice system. At the same time, restorative practices have been adopted that include victims as key stakeholders in the justice process. The author also considers future prospects for the Scottish juvenile justice system that focus on persistent young offenders, victims’ engagement in the youth justice process, engagement with “failing” parents, and the mobilization of the community in youth justice practice and policy. (Abstract courtesy of the National Criminal Justice Reference Service,


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