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Title: In search of community : a critical exploration of the resonance of community to New Labour's youth justice policy and to the lives of young offenders
Author(s): Jamieson, Janet
Issue Date: 2005
Publisher: University of Stirling
Abstract: 'Community' has long proved an integral element in commonsense thinking about a range of social problems and experiences, and with respect to crime the general conclusion is that more community will mean less crime. This study comprises a critical exploration of the resonance of community to New Labour's youth justice policy and to the lives of young offenders. The concept of community is of particular interest, as since its election in 1997 New Labour has been committed to forge a new political ideology of the 'Third Way', wherein communitarian ideas have proved central to the government's ambitions to revive and emphasise individual's responsibilities and obligations to civil society. Thus evident in the array of civil and criminal orders, which constitute the youth justice system in England and Wales, are constructions of community as both a 'moral resource' and as a 4moral claimant'. The former assumes that communities have inherent capacities in preventing and controlling youth crime, while the latter prioritises the community's right to demand the punishment and exclusion of those young people who fail to live up to their communal responsibilities. Given that communitarian responses are but the latest manifestation of the constant search for solutions t o youth crime, consideration is initially accorded to the historical shifts and continuities in both youth justice and community safety policy and practices. It is argued that a movement towards increasingly punitive, exclusionary and defensive responses to crime and young offenders has prevailed in recent years, and it is within this context that New Labour's prioritisation of communitarian thought has occurred. Attention then turns to the specificities of the government's commitment to communitarianism,within youth justice. Not only do New Labour emphasise young people's responsibilities to the community - rather than the community's, or indeed, the state's responsibilities to the young person- but it has also demonstrated its willingness to define. legislate and sanction with respect to those responsibilities it considers essential to the membership rights of the 'law-abiding' community. As such it is contended that the government's vision of community is essentially narrow, defensive and divisive. The analysis then draws upon semi-structured qualitative interviews with a sample of young offenders and Youth Offending Team practitioners to explore the resonance of community to the lives of young offenders and to their experiences of youth justice supervision. It is argued that community is a salient feature of the lives of young offenders which often provides for inclusionary experiences. However, the government's faith in the community to act as a 'moral resource' in preventing and controlling crime does not adequately account for the complex, transitory and ambiguous nature of young offenders' experiences of communal life. Furthermore, the punitive repercussions of the government's commitment to honouring the community's role as a 'moral claimant' serve to undermine the practitioner's ability to exploit the resources the community may have to offer to with regard to encouraging and motivating young people to desist from offending. Additionally, the emphasis on intolerance is likely to promote the community's disapproval and hostility towards young offenders. It is concluded that New Labour's commitment to communitarianism, and its particular envisaging of community, conjures a powerful exclusionary potential which is unlikely to engender positive outcomes for either the young offender or the 'law abiding' community.
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/1893/1807
Affiliation: School of Applied Social Science

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