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The Perspectives of Justice and Welfare Have Dominated Youth Justice Practice for over a


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Many have found it highly controversial to apply the full force of the law to young

offenders. This is so partly due to the differing ages in different jurisdictions of criminal

responsibility. For instance, in England and Wales children are deemed criminally responsible

when they turn ten years old, in Scotland, it is eight years, and in other European countries like

Denmark and its Scandinavian counterparts, the age is 15 years (Gray, 2007). This coupled with

other concerns have given rise to a myriad of questions concerned with the extent to which a

child can be held criminally responsible for his or her behavior. And if one is found responsible,

then would a prison be the appropriate place to deal with the offender. Such questions and

responses have led to the divergent views held by the proponents of the justice and the welfare


There are conflicting views as to how juvenile offenders should be handled, and these

views are aggregated into the justice versus welfare debate. This debate has been persistent for

many years. The justice and welfare views have differing perspectives as to how well to deal

with juvenile delinquents each offering its own forms of deterrence, retribution and punishment

that is, for the justice approachand rehabilitationthat is, for the welfare approach. This

paper will try to highlight the fundamental perspectives that dominate the youth justice system. It

will review the justice approach and the welfare approach while outlining each of the

approaches negative and positive attributes.

Justice and Welfare Debate

The Justice Approach


The justice approach follows the classical theory that posits that the crime and its

punishment should be proportionate to each other. The punishment acts as a major deterrence to

committing the crime for both the individual and the society. Moreover, the classical

criminologist postulates that the greatest emphasis should be on the crime rather than the

offending individual. Additionally, they are concerned with establishing a reformed, efficient and

equitable system of justice. The classical criminologists are known to prefer the justice approach

as the most efficient mode of dealing with juvenile delinquency.

Proponents of the justice approach believe that punishment and retribution are the

most effective when dealing with young offenders. They insist that it not only deters the

offenders from committing other criminal acts but will also disincentivize others from

committing a similar crime. Furthermore, the punishment should be a reflection of the

seriousness of the committed offense. It should offer a just desert, and the concerns of the

offender are inconsequential. There is the explicit demand that the society returns to justice

where all juvenile delinquents are held responsible and proportionally punished for their

misdeeds regardless of age. It implies that punitive measures imposed on the young offenders

should be offense-oriented rather than child-oriented. The classical proponents believe that such

a system would ensure that young offenders are legitimately punished for their wrong-doings.

Moreover, they believe that children rights can only be protected if children are punished for the

wrong they have done (Carrabine, 2012).

However, the justice proponents argue that the police officers should show more effort in

cautioning juvenile offenders for minor offenses. Such efforts would reduce cases of minor

offenses and provide the courts with the much-needed resources to deal with more serious

crimes. Classical criminologists propose that the youth justice system should return to the

equality before the law belief whereby there is a tariff of sentences for various crimes with little

regard to the welfare of the offender. Such a system, some may say, is quite harsh, but could

invariably lead to better handling of minor crimes. Minors offenses like homosexuality,

heterosexuality, drinking and certain drug use could be decriminalized.

The justice approach has some critics. In recent years, many critics have pointed to

incarceration as a negative aspect of the justice system. Some scholars argue that the

incarceration of juvenile delinquents would at times lead to slower development hence making it

more strenuous for the offenders to integrate back into the society and not commit further crimes.

Proponents of the welfare approach to the justice approach criticize how prisons are used. They

argue that the possibility of parole pegged on good behavior does not address the underlying

issues that made the young individual commit the offense in the first instance. The parole

incentive only focuses on motivating the offender to follow the rules and regulations of the

prison and behave in a certain manner. It does not induce the offenders to reflect on their actions

or how they affected themselves, their families, the victims and the society. Additionally, parole

leads to the release of the individual back into the society with the same risk factors that

contributed to him or her committing the crime in the first instance (Morgan, 2016).

Political sentiments have been at the forefront of enabling an environment that supports

the justice approach leading to the establishment of populist punitiveness (Copson, 2014). Many

scholars and political entities have criticized the notion that children are doli incapaxincapable

of doing evil. The principle is a presumption in common law and has been used by incoming

political players as a justification to re-moralize and reform the youth criminal justice system.

Government officials in the United Kingdom insisted that children above the age of 10 are

capable of differentiating between right and wrong and should be held liable for offenses that

grievously harm the community (Muncie, 2004). However, this stand has drawn a lot of criticism

with some describing it as an excessive leap. There have been suggestions that the criminal age

of responsibility is raised to be at par with the other jurisdictions in Europe (Morgan, 2016).

The Welfare Approach

Marvin Wolfgang in 1972 published the book Delinquency in a Birth Cohort which

remarked on the justice system as lacking the ability to deal with youth crime properly. Wolfgang

insisted that the justice approach lacked the capacity to affect subsequent behavior and at worst

created an adverse effect on future behavior. Scholars after Wolfgang also posited that young

delinquents would more probably commit another offense after their first conviction.

The virtues of welfare have shaped the youth justice system in much of the 20th century.

The welfare approach believes that intervention should be at the core where the aim is to meet

the needs of the young offenders rather than punishing their actions (Muncie, 2004). The earlier

part of the 20th century saw many policy makers believe that youth crime was a symptom of the

deep-rooted psychological, economic and social difficulties. The political class tried to wrestle

away the responsibility of youth crime from the legal and probation department and into the

hands of social workers and psychologists. Nonetheless, this was met with heavy resistance

(Goldson & Hughes, 2010). Criminologists have equally been critical of the welfare approach

citing that the discussions of humanitarianism and benevolence contribute to the denial of legal

rights which in actuality increases state intervention (Platt, 2009).

The welfare approach is in direct conflict with the reasoning of the classical theorists.

Advocates of the welfare approach argue that juvenile delinquents commit a crime mainly

because they have been exposed to certain risk factors which contribute to their offending

tendencies. Welfare advocates are against the idea that young offenders should be put through the

criminal justice system which proposes a proportionate punishment and retribution. Moreover,

such a system disregards the contributory risk factors. In fact, welfare proponents see the justice

approach as the leading cause of persistent offenders or the graduation of offenses to a more

grievous nature.

However, one major criticism of the welfare approach is that by allowing social inquiry

reports to play a major role in determining how juvenile delinquents should be dealt with it

places too much emphasis on the offender. This creates an environment where every criminal act

has a justification. Others believe that the continued advocacy of the offenders welfare could

increase the crime rate. Opponents of this approach insist that social inquiry should only be done

in a supervisory capacity if the young offender receives a custodial sentence.

The welfare approach proposes that instead of incarceration juvenile delinquents could

instead be placed in a community punishment order. It would entail the offender working in the

community as payback for the offense committed. The work done would be measured in terms of

hours of community service. It addresses the punitive measure that the justice approach

proposes. It is also seen as a rehabilitative system of punishment since it requires retribution in

terms of serving the community. However, critiques posit that this alternative does not bring the

offender to pay for the consequences of their crime to the victims. Additionally, the risk factors

that are at the core of the welfare system are not being adequately addressed.

In the later part of the 20th century, critics of welfarism, including the political elite, saw

the approach as going against the civil liberties and was ineffective. Moreover, they cited that the

legal rights of the child were inadequately addressed both practically and theoretically. In theory,

it was difficult to pinpoint the exact criteria that should be used to account for actions construed

as in the childs best interest where some saw the measures as a form of social control (Goldson

& Hughes, 2010). Practically, it was observed that welfarism abandoned crucial legal safeguards

which leave children to the discretion of professionals. Overall, welfarism has been criticized as

being inefficient, totalitarian and self-defeating. Moreover, the economic argument that the

welfare sector is unproductive and has a negative contribution of the capitalistic market spill over

into the welfarism critiques. Welfare professionals were criticized for being overbearing,

unaccountable and destructive (Carrabine, 2012).


The justice and welfarism approaches seem to be at the opposite ends of the spectrum

each proposing its own elements of welfare and punishment. A review of these two approaches

illuminates on the dynamics of justice, welfare, responsibilities, rights, punitivism and

informalism and how they coexist, albeit in a disquiet state. Understanding these principles could

assist in the development of an approach that addresses the shortcomings of the individual

approaches. The justice versus welfare debate shows how important it is to get the handling of

youth crime right from the get-go.



Carrabine, E. (2012). Youth Justice in the United Kingdom (pp. 1-13). Colchester: University of

Essex. Retrieved from http://projects.essex.ac.uk/ehrr/V7N1/Carrabine.pdf

Copson, L. (2014). Penal Populism and the Problem of Mass Incarceration: The Promise of

Utopian Thinking. The Good Society, 23(1), 55-72.


Goldson, B., & Hughes, G. (2010). Sociological criminology and youth justice: Comparative

policy analysis and academic intervention. Criminology and Criminal Justice, 10(2), 211-

230. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1748895810364460

Gray, P. (2007). Comparative Youth Justice: Critical Issues. The Howard Journal of Criminal

Justice, 46(4), 453-456. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-2311.2007.00489_4.x

Morgan, R. (2016). Children and Young Persons. In Y. Jewkes, B. Crewe & J.

Bennett, Handbook on Prisons (2nd ed., pp. 200-218). London: Routledge.

Muncie, J. (2004). Youth and Crime: A Critical Introduction (2nd ed., pp. 251-252). California:

SAGE Publications Ltd.

Platt, A. (2009). The Triumph of Benevolence: The origins of the juvenile justice system in the

United States. In B. Goldson & J. Muncie, Youth Crime and Juvenile Justice (pp. 105-119).

London: SAGE Publications.