Comments about The Sentencing of Children
A book by Max Travers, published by New Academia Publishing

About the book

Here are a few issues raised by this book for academics and practitioners in juvenile justice, criminologists concerned with understanding the criminal justice process, and those with interests in comparison.

Youth justice policy

Many readers will be working in juvenile justice, and wish to achieve a more humane and effective response to youth offending. It is often suggested that more intervention is the answer, such as restorative conferences and intensive programmes for high risk offenders. While respecting this viewpoint, this book questions whether more intervention is always a good policy response. The experience of the Australian state of Victoria seems to demonstrate that it is possible to keep young people out of detention centres by giving more chances and intervening more effectively.

A return to the welfare model?

The book also argues against the view, popular among many welfare professionals, that the criminal and protective work of children's courts should be recombined in a return to the welfare model. Instead, it argues that oversight by judicial officers protects defendants against well-meaning but punitive interventions. But it also suggests that, within this framework, a more effective and meaningful way of reaching (socialising) young offenders is possible through therapeutic hearings. To introduce these changes in more than a token fashion will be expensive. But the book suggests that we could do more in addressing this social problem and keeping young people out of detention.


Criminology and sociology of law

For those interested in criminology and sociology of law as academic disciplines, this book illustrates the value of looking closely at the work of practitioners, and also at the young people who attend these courts. The theoretical traditions that inform the research are symbolic interactionism and ethnomethodology. As you would expect in a criminological study informed by sociology, there are criticisms of other traditions including strain and control theories, evaluation research and critical theory. It is suggested that mainstream criminologists describe the world selectively, often to make a moral and political point. By contrast, I am claiming to address the "reality of law".


Possible sociological responses

A structural sociologist might argue that there is something missing from my account. But even someone who shares my assumptions and approach might be critical. An ethnomethodologist might, for example, argue that this is still a surface account: more can be done in explicating the practices and interpretive methods that constitute sentencing.


An invitation to comparison

This book is also a response to Australia by a British academic who moved here in 2003. I hope that practitioners in other English-speaking countries recognise their own work in my description of these children's courts. But readers from outside Australia may also be interested in the distinctive problems facing those seeking to bring about change in this country. You get a taste of these problems in the visits described to country courts, located several hours away from metropolitan areas, and with access to limited resources. You get some sense of the "Indigenous issue", conveyed through reports from practitioners working in two courts. You can see the challenges facing reformers in a federal system that has difficulties collecting performance data. This is one study among many currently being pursued  by Australian criminologists who are interested in reform and social justice.


From the book:

Interpretive researchers have produced a large body of work demonstrating the value of investigating everyday understandings without irony. In investigating the criminal justice process, they have taken seriously the principle that research should be inductive or exploratory, as against seeking answers to narrowly framed questions or confirming pre-conceived assumptions.

Those doing applied research are expected to produce clear cut findings leading to policy recommendations that improve the efficiency and effectiveness of public services. The problem for the interpretivist is that there are not usually clear cut findings , since any social setting contains different perspectives on what is happening.

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