Human rights consciousness

Further to the discussion above - perhaps especially in respect of philosophical approaches and perceptions of diversion and custodial detention - it is not surprising that human rights consciousness was most apparent in the Lowertown penal cultures. The Court Services manager in Lowertown One and the YOT manager in Lowertown Three were both unequivocal:

I think it is extremely important in terms of ensuring that young people are treated with fairness, respect and that the criminal justice system embraces that... I think the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child underpins all of the work around supporting young people. We don’t bring young people into the criminal justice system unnecessarily and those young people who are in the system who have committed harm aren’t punished disproportionately. .. We have reduced the number of young people brought into the youth justice system unnecessarily and we are heading in the right direction in terms of the number of young people we send to custody. I would love to say that we could eliminate it [custody] altogether... I think the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is very helpful in making sure that young people are given all of those opportunities to have support... it’s certainly there, as far as I’m concerned, I’m familiar with it enough to value it as a set of important guiding principles. (E&W, Lowertown One, Court Services Manager)

We have to consider... at a policy level that we are dealing with children first and offenders second... with a significant responsibility relating to, not just criminal justice, but social justice as well... So, the balance between rights and responsibilities becomes not just about talking to young people about what they have done wrong, but also about enabling them to access their rights and entitlements to education, to support from professionals, to sports, to culture, to leisure activities. A whole range of things, which are built in as expectations through the UN Convention of the Kights of the Child, which, after all, we as a country have signed up to... So, what we are looking for is a process that educates rather than one that punishes. That’s a very critical factor. (E&W, Lowertown Three, YOT Manager)

Indeed, human rights consciousness pervaded the penal cultures of the Lower-toums and was expressed by the full range of practitioners, including magistrates and police officers:

... it [UNCRC] was certainly presented to us when we trained and ... I am still respecting fully human rights. (E&W, Lowertown One, Youth Court Magistrate)

... we have legal advisers who are fully an fait with it [UNCRC] and they keep us advised. (E&W, Lowertown One, Youth Court Magistrate)

... well I am supportive of the Convention... yes, of course. (E&W, Lowertown One, Youth Court Magistrate)

It [UNCRC] is empowering. I think young people need to know about this... They [children and young people at the YOT] were complaining ‘this is not fair, that’s not fair’ [being banned from the commercial shopping district]. So, I remember speaking to the young people and saying ‘I don’t think that is right, you need to speak to the Children’s Commissioner directly’... We are huge on participation here. You know part of this process is getting the young person to participate in any way that is possible. It’s inclusive and we want them to participate... It’s about children’s rights. (E&W, Lowertown Three, Police Officer)

Conversely, many interviewees from the Highertowns expressed negative perspectives in respect of the human rights of children and young people in youth justice systems, ranging from ignorant and mildly ambivalent to overtly hostile:

I have to admit I don’t even know what it is. Human rights framework? Is it something to do with the European Union? I have never heard anybody speak about it. I have never spoken about it. I don’t know about it. (E&W, Highertown One, Police Officer)

Well we’ve all had training on it when it first came out... and we were all a bit anxious about it at first, but it never seemed to really materialise into... preventing us. Magistrates, from doing what we thought... we haven’t changed... I haven’t really noticed that much myself as a Magistrate... not really noticed that much difference. (E&W, Highertown One, Youth Court Magistrate)

People are aware of it. But it does not have any effect.... Not at all (E&W, Highertown One, YOT Operations Manager)

When invited to comment on the impact of the UNCRC and other international human rights standards on youth justice practice, an anecdote shared by a Senior Practitioner was especially troubling:

None... I would say none whatsoever... I can finish with an anecdote. The main police station in the city... it was visited by Amnesty International and the European Court. The Police Inspector assembled everybody in the drill room and got up on the table... he said: ‘right lads as you know we have had amongst us... some people from the European Court of Human Kights and an organisation calling itself Amnesty International and we all know what we think of them... they have described you as working in a brutal regime and working in a brutal environment’. And then he paused before saying: ‘Well done lads’. And that just sums it up!. (E&W, Higher-town One, YOT Senior Practitioner)

Synthesising the constituent elements of local penal cultures

Through an extended programme of empirical research in England and Wales we have explored how youth justice (and related agency) managers and practitioners, within distinctive sub-national ‘penal states’ - Lowertoums and Highertoums — construct and operationalise local penal cultures. In sum, we conceive the Lowertoums as applying ‘positive power’ through a combination of charismatic, value-led, purposeful and outward-facing leadership, a philosophical commitment to penal welfare, an enthusiastic and determined embrace of diversionary and decarcerative principles and practices, an engagement with knowledge-based approaches and a recognisable human rights consciousness. Conversely, we have come to understand the Highertoums as sites where instrumentally pragmatic and inward-facing leadership, an emphasis on offender management, an ambivalence to diversion, misguided perceptions of custody, a muted understanding of the youth justice knowledge-base and an under-developed human rights consciousness comprise manifestations of ‘negative power’. We are not suggesting that either the Lowertoums or the Highertoums comprise homogeneous clusters or identical entities of course. Rather we contend that it is the inter-locking and overlapping combinations of the respective constituent elements — embedded and enduring tendencies - that shape distinctive penal cultures at the sub-national level in ways that either moderate or inflate the application of penal detention.

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