Author Q&A: Stephen Case

Coinciding with the publication of his latest book, Youth Justice: A Critical Introduction, our Q&A with Routledge author Stephen Case explores youth justice, youth offending, youth crime, youth work and social policy.

Youth justice is such a dynamic and stimulating area of criminology. This is partly because of its unpredictability, partly because of the political and media influences that shape it and partly because of the exciting body of critical scholarship that surrounds it. With all of this in mind, I feel that I have something new and important to say; an innovative (social constructionist) perspective on youth justice that will be of benefit to students, practitioners and anyone else trying to understand this complex area.

I’ve been teaching, writing and researching in the field of youth justice for nearly 20 years. In that time, I’ve engaged with thousands of students and many other key stakeholders, all of whom are seeking a better understanding of youth justice. It’s also been my pleasure to get to know and learn from many of the most respected authors in the area. However, what I feel is lacking from this complex and dynamic field at this point is a student-focused text that brings key debates and arguments to life in ways that will fully engage the reader. That is the main objective of this book - to move beyond the critical viewpoint of the author by challenging the reader to examine their own perspectives on youth offending and youth justice.

I entered the field as a PhD student and research assistant on April 1, 2000, the very date that the YJB and youth offending teams were officially legislated into existence. Since that time, youth justice has taken a number of complicated and rapidly fluctuating trajectories, each of which has been subject to various political, socio-economic, academic, media and public influences. I cannot see how you would fail to be totally hooked by such a stimulating, challenging and dynamic area of study. The pursuit of understanding and identifying a ‘better way’ to deliver youth justice for the good of children and society in general continues to drive my work on a daily basis. I really hope that this textbook can make a contribution to these objectives.

What we learn from official statistics is essentially how official structures and systems operate over different periods of time, rather than necessarily learning much about the ‘reality’ of what the statistics purport to measure. For example, I argue in the book that the dramatic falls in children entering the YJS for the first time have actually contributed to the slight increase in reoffending rates because the cohort of children left in the system are disproportionately likely to present with multiple complex needs and adverse childhood experiences, so are disproportionately likely to reoffend compared to those children diverted from system contact.

What I’m trying to argue is that neither youth offending nor youth justice are ‘facts’ that should be taken for granted. They both exist in a given form at a given point in time and so are a reality, but this existence/reality is constructed (in the sense of created, manufactured) and re-constructed by key influences in society, in particular, political agendas and activities. Therefore, the nature of this reality is dynamic, contested and contingent. Examining youth justice as a ‘constructed reality’ reminds students to ‘always be critical’ about everything that they read, hear, see and do that is related to understanding the area.

In terms of ‘events’ that help to shape youth justice in the UK (particularly in England and Wales, as these countries share a youth justice system), the growing body of publications from the Youth Justice Board are very important as indicators of the evolution of official understandings in the area - what causes youth offending, what are ‘effective’ ways of responding to it, how the YJS relates to other support systems for children etc. Anyone seeking to keep up-to-date with developments in youth justice should subscribe to YJB publications, the excellent Youth Justice Journal (for students, practitioners and policymakers), the ‘Positive Youth Justice’ Facebook group and the regular bulletins from campaigning organisations such as the Standing Committee for Youth Justice and the National Association of Youth Justice. Students in universities should engage with the youth justice readings identified by their lecturers; hopefully prioritising Youth Justice: A Critical Introduction!

I would obviously argue that my book is particularly important in the field of youth justice because as a textbook it brings contemporary developments and debates up-to-date, whilst placing them in an historical context with more breadth and depth than competitor texts. That said, my textbook is in large part the product of engaging with the arguments from many of my respected academic colleagues (e.g. Roger Smith, John Muncie, Barry Goldson, Kevin Haines, Jo Phoenix, Tim Bateman, Roger Hopkins-Burke) and collaborators from the policy and practice world (e.g. John Drew, Ben Byrne, Dusty Kennedy) - several of whom offered valuable feedback on the book as it evolved. My book is all about learning lessons from history and from stakeholders with direct experience of youth justice. This reflects the approach I’ve taken to writing the book and notable arguments within the book, particularly the ‘Conversations’ with experts in the area.

The key features have been integrated in response to student and lecturer feedback in order to make the text as engaging and student-friendly as possible. For example, ‘Conversations’ with key stakeholders are intended to encourage the reader to listen and engage with personal accounts from experts that offer unique insights into the many different and often hidden facets of youth justice. This feature also offers more balance than contemporary youth justice textbooks, through eliciting the voices of influential policymakers (e.g. Alun Michael, the co-author of the Crime and Disorder Act). Further to this, the ‘telling it like it is’ feature offers the reader a personal and in-depth understanding of key areas of youth justice through engaging with the viewpoints of different youth justice experts. This feature also encourages the reader to always be critical by acknowledging and exploring the subjectivity and agendas of key influencers in the field of youth justice.

This is a huge question! It seems to me that youth justice in England and Wales is moving towards more acknowledgement of ‘children first’ ways of understanding and responding to youth offending. The recent Taylor review of the youth justice system, the recent sentencing guidelines for children committing sexual offences and robbery and the recent national policing strategy for children and young people have all made explicit reference to the need for children first and child-focused principles to guide and shape how we understand and respond to youth offending. Very recent changes to the board members of the YJB offer further encouragement for the children first agenda, as they offer direct policy, practice and research experience of pursuing this model of youth justice. I am certainly going to work very hard to shape youth justice going forwards through my scholarship, research and collaboration with key stakeholders in the area.

All areas of criminology can be more easily understood through division into definitions, explanations and responses - the structure of my book. All areas of criminology contain important elements that are socially constructed over time and place through political, socio-economic, academic and media influences - the central tenet of my book. All areas of criminology should be explored and evaluated using an ‘always be critical’ (ABC) mindset - the vehicle for navigating my book. Consequently, ‘Youth Justice: A Critical Introduction’ is ideal preparatory reading for all students of criminology!

There are similarities and differences between (and within) different countries in relation to the definitions, explanations and responses that have shaped the social construction of youth offending and youth justice over their histories. By examining youth justice in other countries (e.g. I examine international strategies of youth justice throughout chapter 4 of my book), we can gain a comprehensive understanding of the dynamic, contingent and contested nature of the area.

Read my book, explore the references within it, speak to your lecturers, contact me on social media (@SteveCaseCrim), and, most importantly, always be critical!

Featured Book

  • Youth Justice

    A Critical Introduction, 1st Edition

    By Stephen Case

    This book provides a comprehensive, student-friendly and critical introduction to youth justice in England and Wales, offering a balanced evaluation of its development, rationale, nature and evidence base. It explores the evolution of definitions and explanations of youth offending and examines the…

    Paperback – 2018-02-21

More from Stephen Case

  • Understanding Youth Offending

    Risk Factor Reserach, Policy and Practice, 1st Edition

    By Stephen Case, Kevin Haines

    This book aims to provide an understanding of youth offending and policy and practice responses, particularly the risk-focused approaches that have underpinned much recent academic research, youth justice policy and interventions designed to reduce and prevent problem behaviour. There has been…

    Paperback – 2009-06-01

Author Information

I am Professor of Criminology in the Department of Social Sciences, having previously been an Associate Professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies at Swansea University. My primary research interests are youth justice, youth crime prevention and social justice, particularly the promotion of positive, children first ways of working with children embroiled in the Youth Justice System. I am a Director of the Standing Committee for Youth Justice.

Areas of Research / Professional Expertise
I have conducted large-scale funded research for the Leverhulme Trust, Home Office, Youth Justice Board, Welsh Government and National Institute for Health and Social Care. In 2013, I was awarded the Howard League Research Medal (with my colleague Professor Kevin Haines) for an evaluation of the Swansea Bureau youth crime diversion programme and in 2008 I won the British Society of Criminology Brian Williams Prize for outstanding scholarship by a young criminologist. I am currently the Principal Investigator on a Leverhulme-funded project entitled 'Exploring the language barrier to engagement in youth justice assessment interview practice'.