Transforming Youth Justice  book cover
1st Edition

Transforming Youth Justice

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ISBN 9780415628082
Published March 19, 2012 by Routledge
232 Pages

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Book Description

In 1997 the newly modernized Labour party swept into power promising a radical overhaul of the youth justice system. The creation of inter-agency Youth Offending Teams (YOTs) for the delivery of youth justice services were the cornerstone of the new approach. These new YOTs were designed to tackle an 'excuse culture' that was allegedto pervade the youth justice system and aimed to encourage the emergence of a shared culture among youth justice practitioners from different agencies. The transformation of the youth justice system brought about a period of intense disruption for the practitioners working within it. The nature and purpose of contemporary youth justice work was called into question and wider issues of occupational identity and culture became of crucial importance. Through a detailed ethnographic study of the formation of a YOT this book explores a previously neglected area of organisational cultures in criminal justice. It examines the nature of occupational culture and professional identity through the lived experience of youth justice professionals in this time of transition and change.It shows how profound and complex of the effects of organisational change are, and the fundamental challenges it raises for practitioners' sense of professional identity and vocation. Transforming Youth Justice makes a highly significant contribution not only to the way that professional cultures are understood in criminal justice, but to an understanding of the often dissonant relationship between policy and practice.

Table of Contents

1. Transforming youth justice  2. Occupational cultures and criminal justice  Part 1: The Youth Justice Team  3. Experiences and problems of team membership  4. Working in youth justice: social work and ambiguity  5. An unrepresentative representative: being a police officer on a YOT  Part 2: Ambiguity and change  6. Joining the team: problems of identity and membership  7. Experiencing change: identity, resistance and fragmentation  8. Managing ambiguity and change: power and creativity  Part 3: A Youth Offending Team  9. Culture and identity in the new youth justice  10. Understanding culture and change  Appendix Researching a Youth Offending Team

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Anna Souhami is Lecturer in Criminology at the School of Law, Edinburgh University.


During the lead up to the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 there was much debate over the impact that such sweeping legislation would have on the landscape of youth justice. Anna Souhami’s book outlines an extremely detailed ethnographic study from within a Youth Justice Team prior to, andleading up to, the move into a Youth Offending Team. It offers a valuable insight into the implementation and impacts of the 1998 reforms upon youth justice practitioners and their resulting struggles with occupational identity. The first part of the book documents the political basis and the origins for the transformation of the youth justice system, with Souhami arguing that whilst reforms were intended to unite the youth justice professionthey in fact brought uncertainty and a struggle for identity. Chapters 1 and 2 introduce the team at the point of its initial transition. They address the concept of occupational identity, highlighting the distinctions and boundaries between the Youth Justice Team and other social work services. Chapter 3 explores the beliefs, values and aims that underpin youth justice practice andhow the youth justice worker ‘identity’ resulted in an ‘us and them’ (p. 63) mentality promoting conflict with other agencies. The specificities of the relationship between the youth justice team and the police are the focus of Chapter 4 which relatesthe concerns and anxieties expressed by staff with the arrival of the new Police Officer. Souhami argues that the apparent divisions between the Youth Justice Team and other agencies‘masked the inherent ambiguity of key elements of their professional identity’ (p.64). Notwithstanding this questioning of a shared identity among youth justice workers, it is clear that concerns regarding the imposition of a justice approach were rifeand that practitioners had grave reservations with regard to the tensions this would engender for their professional identity – grounded in welfare principles– and their traditional inclination to utilize social work approaches to workwith children and young people. Part 2 of the book explores the experiences of the team as existing and new members from partner agencies respond to a context of continued uncertainty and change. Chapter 5 highlights the feelings ofexclusion and marginalization felt by partner agencies as they join the teamand documents their struggles to develop an occupational identity within anestablished social work culture. Chapter 6 focuses on the organizational change within the team and the practitioners’ resistance to such change during a time when they perceived their occupational identity to be under threat. Reflecting on the wider context and relationships with local and central government, Chapter 7 examines how the YOT’s management team attempted to weather the uncertainly and change within the team and once again highlights the continued resistance on the part of youth justice professionals to change and its implications for their occupational identity. While these chapters provide valuable insights into the fast-moving and challenging contextof youth justice they were perhaps too narrowly focused on the imposition of group-work, and some expansion of this analysis into other areas of practice would have proved useful. Part 3 completes the study of transition examining the official launch of the Youth Offending Team. Chapter 8 reflects on local and national developments and the array of new court orders which followed in the wake of the 1998 Act. It outlines how such developments led the team to developa team identity and establish clarity around its boundaries, duties and aims.However, Souhami argues that this did not result in the development of a shared identity, but rather she suggests that as a result of multi-agency working ‘the crucial aspect of the YOT identity paradoxically was the incorporation of difference’(p. 175). The final chapter draws together the book’s key themesand arguments relating to the role of multi-agency working, an understanding of organizational identity and wider political influences. Souhami argues that the changes set in motion by the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, coupled with the lack of clarity which at times surrounded them, led practitioners to question their professional identities, a situation that was further exacerbated by the emphasis on multi-agency working. Thus Souhami argues that occupational identity of youth justice professionals must be understood within the wider context of external, as well as internal, controls, policies and practices. Overall, Souhami provides a fascinating and thorough insight into the experiences of one Youth Justice Team’s struggle with occupational identity during a time of intense pressure and uncertainty. It will prove an interesting and valuable source for youth justice practitioners, researchers and students alike. Reviewed by: James Warr, Youth Offending Flintshire Youth Offending Team, UK.