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Safeguarding fairness for children in interactions with adults in authority : computer-based investigations of the judgments of secondary school students


This is a report on a project funded by the Criminology Research Council. The original title of the research project, in the name of Associate Professor Jeanette Lawrence, University of Melbourne, was 'Safeguarding fairness for children in interactions with adults in authority'. The project aimed to systematically examine young people's understanding of procedural fairness, and specifically their preferences for procedural safeguards for young offenders in encounters with authoritative adults. In a series of studies, the project asked for the procedural emphases and preferences for adult / child interactions expressed by over a thousand young people ranging in age from 12 to 24 years. The approach involved an interactive computer program allowing secondary school and university students to make considered judgements about appropriate procedural safeguards for adult / child encounters. Disciplinary situations presented in short, realistic stories ranged from the close and informal interactions between a mother and her adolescent child, and the distant, formal and unfamiliar situation of a magistrate and young offender in court, together with the intermediate situation of a teacher confronting an offending student. The most important safeguards to these young people were safeguards ensuring that adults in positions of authority behaved towards young offenders in even handed, fair and well explained ways. Surprisingly, the young participants would rather rely on an authoritative adult to act fairly, than on an offender being able to actively participate in the proceedings or to have a voice or someone else to speak up for them. Either young people are simply content to invest procedural protection in the adults in authority, or they don't know it could be done differently. The study concludes that we need now to understand young people's lack of concern about their active participation and voice and to build educative programs to help inform their expectations.

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