Feminist Perspectives on Youth Justice
Gender issues are not high on the youth justice policy agenda in the UK. ‘Boys’ and ‘girls’ or ‘young men’ and ‘young women’ rarely appear in practice and policy documents, and yet the Home Office is concerned about gender differences in the causes of offending. This paradox runs throughout responses to children who offend. On the one hand, the increasing use of ‘youth’ as a descriptor and policy focus renders girls and young women invisible in a criminal justice system in which, it is true, the vast majority of those processed and punished are male. On the other hand, there is an increased visibility of what has been referred to in a Canadian article as ‘female youth’, notably in media and policy concern at the perceived proliferation of ‘girl gangs’ and the rise in convictions of girls.
The existence of such apparent inconsistencies has often been the spur to feminist analyses and this chapter is no exception. It will, consequently, examine the ways in which minors who offend are described in policy documents, the media and practice guidance, and will also assess what we know about the offending of girls and young women in comparison with their male counterparts. In addition, it will seek to establish whether feminist analyses of gender issues in the sentencing and punishment of adult women apply also to girls and young women.
However, this book is bringing together feminist perspectives on family law and its effects, not just on family life but also on social and legal meanings ascribed to ‘good’ families and ‘good’ mothers. Law’s construction or endorsement of values has given it a crucial role in the ‘remoralisation’ agenda which underpinned social, criminal justice and family policy in the 1990s and continues as a theme of New Labour policy. The desire to support and also discipline the family as a means of strengthening the moral basis for an ordered society has encouraged an approach to offending children and their families which draws on older ideas about the child’s need for discipline. So, current policy holds families responsible for preventing their children offending or re-offending, at the same time as it deems children to be responsible from an early age for their own wrongdoing.
One implication of this development is that there is a potential gender issue in the extent to which mothers and fathers are held ‘culpable’ for their child’s behaviour or pressured to be involved in informal justice, treatment or punishment. Policy and practice in relation to parenting orders, parental fines and parental involvement in restorative conferences (when their child receives a warning from
the police), and referral order meetings with the youth justice panel, are of particular concern.