UK's punitive approach to youth justice at odds with rest of Europe

By agency reporter
November 5, 2008

A new report on youth justice systems across Europe has questioned the UK's punitive approach to children.

The Howard League for Penal Reform has today published 'Punishing children', a report that examines and compares different youth justice systems across Europe.

The report contrasts the welfare based approach across Europe with the UK where punishment is the centre of the response to children in trouble with the law.

The report will be launched tonight at the Howard League’s lecture entitled ‘Do children know the difference between right and wrong?’, held in memory of Lord Parmoor at Clifford Chance, Canary Wharf.

The report’s findings demonstrate that the majority of European countries see a child committing crime as a welfare matter: the crime is a symptom of underlying problems which welfare agencies need to address - be they educational difficulties, mental health needs or histories of abuse and neglect.

By comparison, the UK's system is engineered to respond primarily through punishment.

Director of the Howard League for Penal Reform, Frances Crook, said: “Given the continuing degree to which youth crime is seen as an issue of great public concern - for example, knife crime among inner city teenage boys - it is clear that generations of a system based on punishing children contributes to more crime and an unsafe society.

“All children should be treated equally. What a child has done is separate to who they are, and if a child commits a criminal offence, that offence should not define them. Only by addressing the needs of the whole child can enduring solutions be found.”

Earlier this year the Howard League for Penal Reform launched the Growing up, Shut up campaign to raise awareness of its work for children and urge policy makers to see the child behind the crime.

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