Project Details


Dr Alex Newbury explored the effectiveness of using restorative justice with young people and specifically examined the impact on re-offending and changing attitudes. Restorative justice involves reintegration, reparation and restoration; it can help rebuild bonds, give a positive goal to aim for, encourage young people to take responsibility for their actions and enable victims to be heard.

Research was carried out over an 18-month period with two Youth Offending Teams in the southeast of England and involved an in-depth, qualitative study of 41 young offenders. Alex Newbury reviewed all relevant documentation related to each case, observed the initial community panel (plus mid-point and final panels, if they were held) and held face-to-face interviews with the young offenders, both at the beginning and end of the referral order. In the case of very young offenders, these were conducted in the presence of the child’s parent. Of the 41 cases observed, seven involved young people below 14 years of age: one 11 year old, three 12-year-olds and three 13-year-olds.

The research provoked particular concerns about the experiences of very young offenders (especially 10-12 year-olds) within the youth justice system and raised questions about the involvement of victims in the process.

It sought to move the debate forward regarding the best approach for dealing with youth offending. The project aimed to:
> approach the subject from the perspective of the child
> consider the ramifications of current policy for the majority of very young offenders, > who have generally committed very minor offences
> examine the presumption that involving victims is essential
> improve understanding and influence policymaking.

Key findings

The vulnerabilities of childhood are given relatively perfunctory recognition or accommodation by the justice system, which struggles to deal with children’s reduced level of comprehension, and emotional and behavioural development. The complex terminology (reparation, contract, etc.) and the meeting-based, rather than activity-based, approach is too demanding for the majority of the youngest age group (especially 10-12 year olds). It is questionable whether a disposal that is appropriate for a 17 year old can also be effective for a child as young as 10 years of age. This frequently results in the youngest child offenders becoming mystified rather than restored – or reformed – by the process. The stakes are at their highest with children: how their behaviour and problems are addressed in these precious, most formative years will have ongoing impact for many years to come, if not for the whole of the child’s lifetime.

Findings suggest that the current system is not working and proposes a reframing of societal action and reaction to wrongdoing by the very young. It requires a significant change in our conception and treatment of young offenders, not only by government but also by the media and society as a whole. Using the criminal justice system with young people, with only the smallest accommodation (if any) of their status as children, is problematic. An entirely different approach outside the criminal justice system is required, with a greater investment of resources in early intervention, and a greater emphasis on psychological, emotional and educational support.

With regard to victims, very few are prepared to become involved in the process and there is a danger that the current arrangement can cause more harm than good. There is an inherent tension between the rights and responsibilities of young offenders, and the (presumed) wishes of victims to be heard and for harm to be acknowledged. This dichotomy can cause conflicts of interest between the best interests of the victim and what the offender is prepared to do by way of reparation. This issue is further confused because many young offenders are also victims, either directly in relation to bullying or school fights, or because of exclusion or perceptions of being misrepresented or misunderstood by the education or justice systems. Given the attitude of many young offenders, and their own particular needs and difficul­ties, we should be questioning the benefit of encouraging victims to attend youth offender panels. It may be a rare occurrence for a young offender to give a victim closure at a refer­ral order panel, or to accept responsibility when faced with a room full of adult strangers; instead refusing to apologise or seeking to minimise their offending behaviour. This means that at best the victim becomes little more than a tool in the process; at worst they are further victimised by it.

The contention of this research is that a fundamental paradigm shift in thinking on both a societal and political level is required: from a punitive, criminal justice framework to a consequentialist, community approach.


Newbury, A. (2011) Very young offenders and the criminal justice system: Are we asking the right questions? Child and Family Law Quarterly, 23 (1) 94-114.
Newbury, A. (2011) ‘I would have been able to hear what they think’: Tensions in achieving restorative outcomes in the English youth justice system, Youth Justice, 11 (3) 250-265.

Newbury, A. (2008) Youth Crime: Whose Responsibility? Journal of Law and Society, 35 (1) 131-49.
Effective start/end date1/09/0231/08/08


Explore the research topics touched on by this project. These labels are generated based on the underlying awards/grants. Together they form a unique fingerprint.