Public opinion, politics and the response to youth crime
The general aim of this chapter is to consider the political possibilities for a significant change in the direction of policy responses to youth crime and antisocial behaviour in England and Wales. More specifically, it aims to assess the feasibility, given the prevailing conditions of popular and political debate about crime and punishment, of a shift away from ‘populist punitive’ responses in youth justice policy and towards more balanced evidence-led approaches. The discussion is based on the premise that in most respects, the political constraints on progressive developments in the specific field of youth justice are similar to those regarding penal policy as a whole. Rather than consider the strengths and limitations of particular policy approaches, the aim is to explore the factors shaping policy-making and the possibilities of a changed approach. The discussion starts from certain key assumptions: (1) youth justice policy in England and Wales (as with penal policy as a whole) has shifted in a decisively punitive direction in recent decades; (1) these punitive shifts have been driven more by populist political concerns than by a pragmatic assessment of the available evidence; and (2) the resulting policy outcomes have been generally undesirable.