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Institute of Criminology

Hedi Viterbo 100x100

Dr Hedi Viterbo

Senior Lecturer in Law, Queen Mary University of London

'Just for Kids? How the Youth Decarceration Discourse Legitimises Adult Incarceration'

Various academics, human rights organisations, and state officials have called for the reduction or abolition of youth incarceration. At first glance, such calls may appear to be part of, and a service to, the broader anti-carceral movement. In this talk, Dr Hedi Viterbo lays bare how they tend to do quite the opposite: persistently portraying the overwhelming majority of people in trouble with the law—namely, adults—as incorrigible, blameworthy, and, therefore, as deserving punishment and incarceration. When it comes to most imprisoned people, then, the dominant youth decarceration discourse condones, and potentially even entrenches, carceral thinking, and it does so in the name of children’s rights. Bringing together critical prison studies and critical childhood studies, this talk sheds new and critical light on key aspects of the youth decarceration rhetoric: its ill-considered reliance on the language of children’s rights, its problematic assumptions about both youth and adults, its ageist framing of the ills of criminal confinement, and its misjudgment of contexts—such as health risks in prison during the coronavirus pandemic—in which adults’ greater vulnerability is uncontested. Instead of the existing youth decarceration discourse, then, a bolder decarcerationist vision is needed, one that benefits imprisoned people across the age spectrum.

To attend online, register your interest here:

For those unable to attend, the event will be recorded and you will be able to watch it on the Event Recordings webpage.


Thursday, 11 November, 2021 - 17:30 to 19:00
Event location: 
Online and B3 & B4, Institute of Criminology, University of Cambridge