ABSTRACT. The social policy and criminal justice agenda introduced by New Labour in the UK between 1997 and 2010 was significantly influenced by a communitarian philosophy imported from the USA, where it had come to prominence in during the 1980s and which proposed that the individual rights promoted by traditional liberalism need to be balanced with social responsibilities (Etzioni 1995a, 1995b). Nowhere was this influence more apparent in the UK context than in the flagship criminal justice legislation, the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, the creation of the contemporary youth justice system which signaled a conspicuous departure from its predecessor, and which was all validated by the mantra of then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, “tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime.” It was now proposed in terms of the new communitarian orthodoxy that young offenders should take responsibility for their actions while, at the same time, those working in the new system should seek to ameliorate the personal and social conditions that had impacted negatively on their behavior. Critics of the pragmatic implementation of communitarian policies nevertheless detected a progressive authoritarian overemphasis on the responsibilities of individuals to the detriment of their rights. This was to become very apparent with the new youth justice system which came to absorb a worryingly ever increasing number of young people into its widening custodial net (Hopkins Burke, 2008). This theoretically-informed paper considers 1) the notion of communitarianism and its significance, 2) its impact on the contemporary youth justice system introduced in England and Wales in 1998, and 3) the implications and possibilities for a system founded on a radical moral communitarianism (Hopkins Burke, 2014a, 2014b). The paper provides a significant alternative conceptualization of communitarianism informed by notions of consensual interdependency, a fairer and (more) equal division of labor and an appropriate balance between the rights and responsibilities of all citizens in society. It concludes that a radical moral communitarian emphasis on social inclusion, a fairer more equal society, enjoying widespread legitimacy among young people and their significant others, will provide the basis of a much more humane, dispassionate and depoliticized youth justice system, incorporating a much wider us of progressive concepts such as restorative justice which have for too long lingered on the margins of Western youth justice systems. pp. 98–119

Keywords: radical moral communitarianism; young offender; social inclusion

How to cite: Hopkins Burke, Roger (2017), “The Case for a Radical Moral Communitarian Youth Justice,” Contemporary Readings in Law and Social Justice 9(1): 98–119.

Received 30 July 2015 • Received in revised form 23 July 2016
Accepted 23 July 2016 • Available online 15 August 2016


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School of Social Science,
College of Business, Law and Social Sciences,
Nottingham Trent University

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