Loughborough University
Brett B631369 Final.pdf (2.41 MB)

Plotting the trajectory of youth justice in the 19th and 20th centuries by the making of legislation: a process in five acts

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posted on 2022-05-17, 14:46 authored by Justin Brett

Youth justice in England and Wales is paradoxical in the sense that it treats young people who break the law as simultaneously villains and victims. This is often explained using models that draw heavily on Foucauldian ideas of governmentality to analyse the contemporary situation but do not look to the past for explanation. In particular, they do not take into account the effect of legislation, nor the fact that the legislation governing youth justice has developed over time. Since some of this legislation dates back at least to the 1930s, it seems logical that this lack of historical depth should be addressed. This thesis therefore takes the legislation governing youth justice as its starting point and asks what the making of legislation can tell us about how and why youth justice has developed over time. The thesis gives an historical analysis of the making of five key pieces of legislation: the Youthful Offenders Act 1847, the Children Act 1908, the Children and Young Persons Act 1933, the Children Act 1969 and the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, informed by the concepts of 'process' and 'figuration' associated with the research tradition influenced by Norbert Elias (1897-1990). This sort of analysis has not been done before; historical research into youth justice usually focuses either upon the offenders themselves or methods of disposal from court such as custodial institutions. The driving force behind legislative change is revealed as a process of separation between young and adult offenders that is not successfully completed, and indeed remains in flux throughout the period studied. The result of this is that the shape of youth justice today is still determined by legislation that can be traced directly back to the beginning of the process in the nineteenth century. Analysis of the figurations around the making of the legislation shows shifts in the influence of politicians, government bureaucracy, interest groups and professional bodies throughout the period, and highlights the influence of magistrates, the significance of whom has previously been underestimated. It also demonstrates that individuals have been more influential in the making of legislation than had previously been thought. It concludes that the paradoxical nature of youth justice can be understood as the unforeseen consequence of the way in which the process of separation drove development and evolution of legislative change over time.



  • Social Sciences and Humanities


  • Criminology, Sociology and Social Policy


Loughborough University

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© Justin Brett

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A Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the award of the degree of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.


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Stephen Case ; Christopher Kay

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  • PhD

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  • Doctoral

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