Creating the Youth Justice Board: Policy and policy making in English and Welsh youth justice

AuthorAnna Souhami
Published date01 April 2015
Date01 April 2015
Subject MatterArticles
Criminology & Criminal Justice
2015, Vol. 15(2) 152 –168
© The Author(s) 2014
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DOI: 10.1177/1748895814526724
Creating the Youth Justice
Board: Policy and policy
making in English and
Welsh youth justice
Anna Souhami
University of Edinburgh, UK
Despite continuing interest in English and Welsh youth justice policy there has been little critical
engagement with the nature of policy itself. Instead, analyses share a common methodological
position whereby ‘policy’ is equated with policy ‘products’ (such as legislation or ministerial
speeches). This article argues that to understand youth justice policy a wider view is required of
what constitutes policy, and where and by whom it is made. It explores how policy is produced in
the complex arena of social practice which, following the establishment of the Youth Justice Board
for England and Wales (YJB), now constitutes the central operation of the system. Through the
creation of the YJB the central youth justice system became essentially undefined. This not only
gave YJB officials significant influence in shaping the direction of the youth justice system, but a
broad and flexible arena in which to act. Moreover it enabled them to do so according to values
and objectives potentially unconnected to ministerial outcomes. Drawing on an ethnographic study
of the operation of the YJB, this article explores the policy-making work of YJB officials through
the transformation of the role and activities of the YJB itself, comparing the initial parameters
of its operation to the way it was defined in action. The article discusses the implications for
understanding New Labour’s English and Welsh youth justice policy, and the nature of ‘policy’ itself.
Governance, New Labour, policy, youth justice, Youth Justice Board
New Labour’s radical programme of reform of the English and Welsh youth justice
system under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 revitalized a continuing academic debate
about the nature of contemporary youth justice policy. In particular, there is an on-going
Corresponding author:
Anna Souhami, University of Edinburgh, School of Law, Old College, South Bridge, Edinburgh EH8 9YL, UK.
526724CRJ0010.1177/1748895814526724Criminology & Criminal JusticeSouhami
Souhami 153
concern with uncovering the ideological and theoretical basis of English and Welsh
youth justice: the ‘deep structures’ (Gordon et al., 1977) that underpinned the radical
restructuring of the system and the implications for both services and the young people
subject to them. Much of this debate focused on the reforms themselves (e.g. Crawford,
2001; Fionda, 1999; Goldson, 2000; Haines and Drakeford, 1998; Muncie, 1999;
Newburn, 1998; Pitts, 2001; Souhami, 2007). A smaller body of work has continued to
explore the legacy of New Labour’s youth justice policy over subsequent years, in par-
ticular the extraordinary expansion in volume and reach of legislative activity (e.g.
Fergusson, 2007; Goldson, 2010, 2011; Goldson and Muncie, 2006; Muncie, 2011).
Through this powerful body of work, a dominant mode of thinking about New
Labour’s youth justice has emerged in which it is seen as fundamentally incoherent and
ultimately destructive. So, for example, strategies directed by an emotive authoritarian
punitivism run uneasily alongside rational logics of managerialism and evidence (e.g.
Crawford, 2001; Fergusson, 2007; Goldson, 2010). As a result, some have concluded
that youth justice under the New Labour administration lacked any clear philosophical
basis (e.g. Fionda, 1999; Muncie, 2000), suggesting that the Government was ‘overtly
indifferent’ to the ideological foundation of its policy in general (Fergusson, 2007: 182).
These analyses have taken a consistent methodological approach, in which the ‘fla-
vour’ (Goldson, 2010: 166) of Labour’s youth justice policy is examined through analy-
sis of the discourse, content and scope of the copious policy ‘products’1 that have been
issued over the past decade, such as legislation, ministerial statements, action plans and
frameworks and Green and White papers. Indeed, these products tend to be treated as
synonymous with ‘policy’ itself.
These products are vitally important and powerful instruments of youth justice policy:
they generate and empower some actions and deny others, they make the practices of
government knowable and repeatable (Freeman and Maybin, 2011), and they are power-
fully communicative. They are therefore of particular importance in both directing the
overarching direction of the youth justice system and providing an insight into the inten-
tions of a powerful group of central government2 actors. However, they are not wholly
constitutive of policy. Instead, this article argues that in order to understand the nature of
English and Welsh youth justice it is necessary to take a wider view of what constitutes
policy, and where and by whom it is made. In particular, it explores how policy is pro-
duced in the complex and expansive arena of social practice which, following the estab-
lishment of the Youth Justice Board for England and Wales (YJB), now comprises the
central operation of the youth justice system.
This article therefore takes a different approach to that currently dominant in crimino-
logical writing and elsewhere. Its focus is not the ‘products’ of central policy or their
construction, but the arrangements and activities of officials, in this case YJB personnel.
Through this approach it departs from the ‘abiding cliché’ (Page and Jenkins, 2005: 2)
that policy is set by a relatively narrow group of ministers and elite Whitehall advisers,
with the surrounding bureaucracy concerned simply with the details of implementation
or ‘codification’ (e.g. Fergusson, 2007). By this view, there is a clear practical and con-
ceptual divide between central policy formulation and delivery and the actors tasked
with each. The YJB itself has been seen as involved solely with the implementation of
policy and not its formulation: in other words, it is simply a vehicle for the delivery of

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