Recent Histories and Contemporary Trends in Comparative Youth Justice and Penality


In Chapter 1, we signalled some of the paradoxes, anomalies and even contradictory impulses that have come to characterise youth justice and penality in Australia and in England and Wales and that drove our original interest in comparative research. In this chapter, we examine critically recent histories and contemporary trends in youth justice and penality over a 40-year period. We deliberately refrain from slavishly describing and detailing chronological developments in policy and practice within and between the respective jurisdictions; rather we adopt a more discursive, thematic and analytical approach. We begin by exploring trends in youth imprisonment as a proxy for broader shifts in youth penality.1 In so doing, we immediately confront a key conceptual challenge in comparative analysis; if broadly similar social, economic, cultural and political conditions are operating in neoliberal states - including Australia and England and Wales - how do we account for both convergent and divergent developments in the field of youth justice and penality?

The evidence we present in this chapter indicates that the various means by which children and young people are governed and youth justice is administered -the modes of youth penality - are neither uniform nor static; rather they are characterised by ever-changing organisational forms and operational impulses. It follows, therefore, that youth justice policy responses and practice formations not only change over time (temporal dimensions), but, as stated in Chapter 1, they also vary between jurisdictions and, in vitally important respects, within jurisdictions (spatial dimensions). In addition, developments in youth penality are neither linear nor tidy. Rather, our comparative research reveals starkly that recent histories and contemporary trends in youth justice and penality are marked by inconsistency, selectivity and unevenness. Indeed, a foundational argument is that many of the drivers of youth justice and penality are best understood as political as distinct from penological responses or strategies, and that temporal and spatial contingencies are key to understanding continuities and changes and both convergent and divergent forms.

Despite the complex and dynamic nature of comparative youth justice and penality, wherever and whenever we might care to look, it is principally anchored to the control, regulation and ultimately punishment of the most systemically disadvantaged and institutionally marginalised children and young people. As noted in Chapter 1, structurally differentiated and mediated forms ofjustice and injustice comprise core concerns, therefore, and we will return to a closer analysis of such phenomena in Chapters 4-6.

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