This study explores the formative origins of youth justice policy and the discursive process of mandate-seeking in party manifestos in Westminster elections. Analysis of issue salience and policy framing reveals: party politicization, a significant increase in issue salience from the 1990s onwards, and a shifting structural policy narrative with inherent contestation and contradictions. The past decade has seen some attempts to revisit pre-1970s welfarist approaches following an extended emphasis on criminalization, incarceration and punishment. This discursive shift has presaged an impressive reduction in levels of incarceration and numbers sentenced, yet international and historical comparative data suggest party programmes need to place continuing emphasis on diversion if full compatibility with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child is to be secured.
Published: March 2016