Rhetoric or reality? : restorative justice in the youth justice system in England
This thesis explores the recent introduction of restorative justice into the youth justice system in England. It examines the historical and political context from which current youth justice policies have emerged and aims to evaluate how this new system is functioning 'on the ground' several years after being implemented. Specifically, the primary aim of the research is to investigate final warnings and referral orders. The findings are based on an in-depth study of one Youth Offending Team (YOT). The research adopted a predominantly qualitative, case study based method utilizing techniques of observation, informal conversations, formal interviews with the young offenders and their supporters as well as with authority figures who are amongst those responsible for policy and practice in the youth justice system. The substantive chapters of this thesis focus on the delivery of final warnings, referral order panel meetings, victim participation, and the structural, cultural and political influences on YOT practice. This research concludes that at present, restorative practices in England are seriously compromised. However, simply because these programmes experience difficulties, they should not necessarily be considered a failure. The present failures in practice are not related to the philosophical foundation of these programmes or even to the way in which they have been set up. Rather, the current shortcomings in practice are due mostly to a failure of implementation on the part of the YOT. The final warning and referral order programmes, if improved, have the potential to become an effective first encounter with the criminal justice system and to impact positively on many first time offenders.