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The state of youth justice 2015: An overview of trends and developments

The youth justice system in 2015 is substantially smaller than it was a few years ago. Since 2008, there has been a sharp fall in the number of children receiving a formal youth justice sanction; a decrease that is explained, in large part, by a reduction in the number of children who enter the criminal justice system for the first time – so called first time entrants (FTEs).1 Over the same period, there has been an equally dramatic decline in the use of imprisonment for children, generating a corresponding contraction in the population of the secure estate for children and young people.

This ‘shrinkage’ of youth justice is without doubt the most significant headline from any analysis of trend data from the recent period. It is important to recognise, however, that such statistical indicators do not necessarily reflect in any straightforward fashion changes in the volume or seriousness of children’s criminal activity. Rather that behaviour is mediated through shifts in legislation, policy and practice which may, in themselves, have a significant impact on how many children are processed through formal youth justice mechanisms. Nor should it be assumed that changes in policy and practice constitute evidence-led responses to the nature and extent of children’s law breaking; indeed, they may more commonly be explained as a function of political or financial concerns.