New Labour’s youth justice legacy

The sleep of (criminological) reason: Knowledge—policy rupture and New Labour’s youth justice legacy

From Criminology and Criminal Justice


This article looks at how the UK youth justice system has experienced many reforms under the 3 terms of New Labour. There is an understanding that the treatment of children— particularly those in conflict with the law—is an important signifier of a society’s civility, maturity and humanity. It represents a profound symbolic marker of its core values, principles and moral integrity. The argument here is that by effectively negating knowledge/evidence in the construction of policy, successive New Labour Ministers have mutated justice and surrendered their claim to be regarded as honest brokers in the complex debates surrounding children, young people and crime. This raises serious questions pertaining not only to knowledge/evidence–policy relations but also to the democratic process itself, political power and public accountability.


For over a decade, three successive New Labour administrations have subjected the English youth justice system to a seemingly endless sequence of reforms. At the root of such activity lies a core tension between measured reason and punitive emotion; between an expressed commitment to ‘evidence-based policy’ and a populist rhetoric of ‘tough’ correctionalism. By engaging a detailed analytical assessment of New Labour’s youth justice programme, this article advances an argument that the trajectory of policy has ultimately moved in a diametrically opposed direction to the route signalled by research-based knowledge and practice-based evidence. Moreover, such knowledge— policy rupture has produced a youth justice system that ultimately comprises a conduit of social harm. All of this raises serious questions of knowledge/evidence—policy relations and, more fundamentally, of democracy, power and accountability.

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Article details

Goldson, B. (2010). The sleep of (criminological) reason: Knowledge–policy rupture and New Labour’s youth justice legacy Criminology and Criminal Justice, 10 (2), 155-178 DOI: 10.1177/1748895809360964

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