Youth Justice? The Impact of System Contact on Patterns of Desistance from Offending

Published: August 2010

This chapter assesses the effectiveness of the Scottish model of youth justice in the context of a growing body of international research which is challenging the ‘evidence-base’ of policy in many western jurisdictions. Drawing on findings from the Edinburgh Study of Youth Transitions and Crime, it shows how labelling processes within agency working cultures serve to recycle certain categories of children into the youth justice system, whilst other serious offenders escape the tutelage of the formal system altogether. The deeper a child penetrates the formal system, the less likely they are to desist from offending. The article concludes that the key to reducing offending lies in minimal intervention and maximum diversion. While the Scottish system should be better placed than most other western systems at delivering such an agenda (due to its founding commitment to decriminalisation and destigmatisation), as currently implemented, it appears to be failing many young people.

Authors / Editors

Prof Lesley McAra

University of Edinburgh

Prof Susan McVie OBE FRSE

Research Themes

Young People and Youth Justice