Significant progress has been made in meeting the primary aim of the youth justice system — to prevent offending – with fewer first-time entrants to the system, resulting in fewer community and custodial sentences being passed. The success of YOTs in developing holistic, multi-agency working with young people who offend has partly resulted from policy changes, with a heightened focus on diversion, early intervention and prevention, and increased scope for professional discretion, and partly from demands for financial savings and economic constraints. The progress made also reflects a greater recognition of the potential vulnerability of children and young people involved in offending behaviour and the need to align youth justice legislation with the ECHR, the UNCRC and the Human Rights Act 1998. However, caution is still needed — youth justice’s position as a key ‘political football’ suggests that the relentless pace of change is likely to continue. Recent history has shown that numerous initiatives have been introduced without being allowed to bed in or become fully operational before they are superseded by the next big idea (Hucklesby and Wahidin, 2013), and there is no reason to believe that this will change. For the last half-century, political parties have sought to sell their criminal justice policies to the electorate; there is an important populist element in the way policy is formed, with the shared assumption that being tough on crime and claiming to promote the interests of victims rather than defendants will bring electoral success (Ashworth and Redmayne, 2010). Although defeated in its attempts, the Coalition’s desire to widen the scope of civil injunctions against ‘nuisance and annoyance’ suggests that it believes that tough early intervention is needed, with zero tolerance for the transgressions made by children and young people.
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