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Race, ethnicity, young people and offending: the elephant in the room

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Can we start to say Race again when discussing youth and justice? This demand emerges from the findings of the participatory action research reported in this article. Fifty young people, in custody or in contact with youth offending teams (YOT), discussed the support that would enable them to desist from offending behaviour. Race was a prism through which they saw their experience. Rather than naming racism, family appeared to be a covert, legitimate, way of talking about identity, solidarity and difference. Family ties, overlaid with experiences of race and racism, could be reasons for engaging in behaviour that was seen as criminal. Family, overlaid with ethnicity, could become a source of support to enable young people to cope with the challenges of being involved in and desisting from offending behaviour. At a time where policy and political language has shifted from rac(ism) to a culturalist discourse focused on ethnicity or religion, naming Race and racism remains vital. Only by acknowledging the differentiating power of Racism can the experience of young people in contact with YOT be understood. Only by appreciating the value of shared experience of race (within families and communities) can appropriate pathways towards alternative futures be offered.
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Keywords: Race; YOT; ethnicity; family; identity; racism

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: School of Social Work, Care and Community, University of Central Lancashire, Preston, UK

Publication date: January 2, 2020

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