‘Time for a Fresh Start’, but is this it? A Critical Assessment of The Report of the Independent Commission on Youth Crime and Antisocial Behaviour

AuthorBarry Goldson
Published date01 April 2011
Date01 April 2011
Subject MatterArticles
Corresponding author:
Professor Barry Goldson, School of Sociology and Social Policy, University of Liverpool, Liverpool, L69 7ZA, UK.
Email: b.goldson@liv.ac.uk
‘Time for a Fresh Start’, but is
this it? A Critical Assessment of
The Report of the Independent
Commission on Youth Crime and
Antisocial Behaviour
Barry Goldson
In 2010, the Independent Commission on Youth Crime and Antisocial Behaviour published a major report
entitled Time for a Fresh Start (Independent Commission on Youth Crime and Antisocial Behaviour, 2010).
The Commission’s report exposes the youth justice system in England and Wales to critical scrutiny. During
the course of its inquiries the Commission consulted with, and/or received ‘evidence’ from, over 170
individuals and organizations. At the conclusion of the same inquiries, the report was published alongside
a companion volume entitled A New Response to Youth Crime (Smith, 2010). The titles of the report and
its accompanying book leave little to the imagination; the Commission clearly believes that a ‘fresh star t’
and/or a ‘new response’ to youth crime and youth justice are needed in England and Wales. Informed by
a long-term research project centred on national and international youth justice theor y, law, policy and
practice, this article focuses exclusively upon the Commission’s report and subjects it to critical assessment.
Whilst endorsing the Commission’s perceived need for change, the article presents a detailed critique of its
‘alternative’ vision. It concludes by raising core questions pertaining to youth justice policy formation and the
politics of policy influence.
abolitionism/penal reduction, critical analysis, early intervention, independent inquiry, policy influence,
responsibilization, restorative justice
The Independent Commission on Youth Crime and Antisocial
In September 2008, the Nuffield Foundation1 announced that it had allocated a grant to
the Police Foundation,2 amounting to £413,163, to support the establishment of an
Independent Commission on Youth Crime and Antisocial Behaviour (hereafter, the
Youth Justice
11(1) 3–27
© The Author(s) 2011
Reprints and permission: sagepub.
DOI: 10.1177/1473225410394292
4 Youth Justice 11(1)
Commission). The Commission comprised twelve members.3 It was chaired by Anthony
Salz, the Executive Vice Chairperson of Rothschild4 and John Graham (Director of the
Police Foundation) and David Utting (an independent writer, researcher and policy ana-
lyst specializing in issues concerning children, young people and families) formed the
secretariat. The Commission’s remit was to:
1. Identify a set of principles for:
responding fairly, effectively and proportionately to antisocial behaviour and
offending by children and young people;
minimizing the harm that the antisocial and criminal behaviour of young people
causes to themselves and to society.
2. Assess the strengths and weaknesses of existing responses to youth crime and anti-
social behaviour in England and Wales against these principles by:
gathering evidence from research, statistics and other literature;
consulting with relevant organizations, individual experts and stakeholders,
including young people themselves;
supplementing the evidence obtained with a series of visits to relevant locations
in the United Kingdom.
3. Investigate and identify alternative approaches, drawing on promising practice in
the United Kingdom and other countries (with special reference to Canada, France,
Germany and Sweden).
4. Devise a blueprint for an effective, just, humane and coherent response to children
and young people’s antisocial and criminal behaviour in England and Wales that
reflects the fundamental principles that have been identified.
5. Produce proposals for the sustainable reform of relevant services for children
and young people, including youth justice procedures, that are based on sound
6. Seek to influence policy by publishing a plain-English report and communicating its
findings through media and other appropriate methods to policy makers, practition-
ers, stakeholders and the wider public.
7. Publish an account of the research and other evidence considered by the Commission
as a book, written by academic and other expert authors and made available through
a commercial publisher’.
(Independent Commission on Youth Crime and Antisocial Behaviour, 2010: 4)
From the outset, therefore, the Commission’s conceptual frame clearly prioritized two
core issues: first, ‘crime’ and ‘antisocial behaviour’ attributed to / committed by children
and young people and, second, the ‘harm’ that such behaviour is deemed to ‘cause’, both
to ‘themselves and to society’. The Commission’s primary objective was made equally
clear: to present a set of proposals and recommendations designed to ‘influence’ policy
responses directed towards children and young people in conflict with the law. Furthermore,
throughout the course of its inquiries the Commission was keen to emphasize its

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