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Evidence-based core messages for youth justice
Prof Ursula Kilkelly identifies evidence-based core messages for youth justice in the latest HMIP Academic Insight.

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Clear and consistent messages

The latest (20 October 2023) in HMI Probation’s Academic Insight series is entitled Evidence-based core messages for youth justice and is written by Professor Ursula Kilkelly from University College Cork. Professor Kilkelly acknowledges that there is a need to blend key findings and insights from a range of disciplines and types of research, as well as from across jurisdictions. Nevertheless, she identifies ten remarkably clear and consistent messages emanating from the research literature. 

The paper also recognises the need for the evidence base to continually evolve and to bridge the gap between research, policy and practice. 

The research literature

The paper sets out to identify, from the established research literature, the key messages relating to children who come into conflict with the law and their pathways into and out of the justice system. Building on previous research funded by the Irish Research Council and since updated in a work that seeks to align the scholarship with a children’s rights approach this paper identifies ten key messages that should inform an evidence-based approach to youth justice in any jurisdiction.

The paper helpfully focuses entirely on these ten key messages which are helpfully summarised in the infographic below.


The extensive international scholarship on young people who come into conflict with the law and their experiences of the justice system is diverse and dense, comprising large and small multi-method studies that cross jurisdictions and disciplines. It is therefore interesting that, despite these many variables, the messages identified by Professor Kilkelly that emanate from this body of knowledge are remarkably clear and consistent. They remind us repeatedly that young people who come into conflict with the law are disadvantaged in multiple complex ways by individual, family and community circumstances.

Disproportionate impact and inequitable outcomes are widespread. Sadly, it is clear from the literature that justice systems in which most of these young people find themselves often do a poor job addressing their needs and particular circumstances. 

In presenting these high-level findings from the world’s leading studies, this paper advocates for a more empathic approach to young people who come into conflict with the law. The paper supports an approach to offending behaviour by young people that treats them as children, rights holders, with all their individual life experiences and vulnerabilities. Professor Kilkelly emphasises that attention must be paid to their continuing development both as an important context for their offending behaviour and the key to their future.

In conclusion, this paper highlights how the ultimate goal of any youth justice system can be achieved, that is to ensure young people not only enjoy a safe and healthy childhood, but that they reach adulthood and beyond, as happy and healthy adults, supported to play their part in society.

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