Youth offending is essentially defined as the phenomenon where an under-aged people commits any illegal activity. The youth offending institutions provide safety and security to these young convicts. As per recent studies, cases of youth offending has decreased by almost 77% in the past ten years in the UK and Wales. The essay focuses on the probable impact of youth offending on modern society. In recent times, the country has been witnessing a drastic increase in the youth crime rates that has raised several questions against the youth justice system of the UK government.
Development of government policies and initiatives in controlling youth offending (P1)
Although the UK government has been successful in reducing the incidents of youth crimes, it has been studied that around 73% of the young convicts re-offend within a year of their release. The “Youth Justice Board” that is sponsored by the “Ministry of Justice” supervises the activities of the youth justice system of the country. The government has been working to reduce youth crime rates by providing individuals with proper rehabilitation and care. Significant changes took place in the youth justice system of England and Wales in 1990s with the implementation of the “Crime and Disorder Act 1998” (Legislation.gov.uk, 2020). With the implementation of this act, the ‘Anti-Social Behaviour Orders’ (ASBOs) were also introduced. A magistrate might impose ASBO if they feel that the offender has shown anti-social behaviour, which can cause potential harassment, stress or other harms. The order is applicable to anyone over ten years of age and lasts for at least two years (Assets.publishing.service.gov.uk, 2020).
Children Act 1908 focuses on the establishment of juvenile courts and rehabilitation. It focused on providing protection to infants and children by putting them under suitable foster care and worked on preventing infanticide and youth offending (Legislation.gov.uk, 2020). In addition, the Children and Young Persons Act 1969 was based on the Welfare model and focused on providing treatment and care to juvenile offenders by utilising court proceedings. It aimed to ensure the safety of youth offenders and offer them proper educational facilities (Legislation.gov.uk, 2020). ‘Injunctions to Prevent Nuisance or Annoyance’ (IPNA) were introduced under the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 and focused on preventing anti-social behaviour among any individuals over ten years. It widens the field of anti-social behaviour and can even treat daily activities like skateboarding, ball games as a nuisance (Childrenssociety.org.uk, 2020).
Before this act, a child below 14 could only be convicted if the prosecution could prove they were intentionally engaging in criminal activities. However, with the implementation of the act, the ‘age of criminal responsibility’ was declared as 11 years in Wales and England (Capita-one.co.uk, 2016). With the increase in the cases of re-offending, the government has also been investing in acquiring estates for developing training centres and rehabilitation facilities for young offenders. The justice board has also been setting up ‘secure colleges’ for the educational purposes of the young convicts at the time of their detention. The “Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012”, implemented by the UK government focuses on providing a more flexible sentencing structure for the young offenders (Gov.uk, 2020). It provides the court with necessary changes in the sentencing provisions and also considers making reasonable compensations to the offenders (Services.parliament.uk, 2020).
Theories of youth offending (P2)
Merton’s strain theory
According to Merton, society puts significant pressure on its people which often results in criminal activities. The theory discusses how economic backwardness, as well as lack of education, can encourage several individuals to participate in illegal activities (Giuliani et al. 2019). According to this theory, social structures play a significant role in pressurising citizens to commit a crime (Denny-Smith and Loosemore, 2017). The theory discusses how the social structure puts considerable pressure on the individuals to achieve specific goals even though they might not have the necessary means. This social pressure and lack of amenities can influence the individuals to commit a crime for gaining financial security. Moreover, the relevance of inconsistent parenting, family size, gendered factors and “criminal genes” cannot be ignored in this context.
Cohen’s subcultural or status frustration theory
Cohen’s theory aims to understand juvenile delinquency and break the transition from a young offender to a hard-core criminal (Sandberg et al. 2019). As opposed to Merton’s theory, Cohen’s theory focuses on several social causes other than economic needs that might cause criminal behaviour in an individual. On the other hand, youth offenders belonging to the working class often get involved in unscrupulous activities as they are not provided with the basic amenities which are required for leading a healthy life. However, Cohen has focused on the four factors such as social background, the performance of those children in the educational institutions, status frustration and the way the reaction is formed.
On the contrary, macro-environmental factors as well as biological factors can help to understand what determines disruptive behaviours of youth offenders. The youth offenders are excluded from the school due to their disruptive behaviours. Applying the concept of “School to Prison Line” about 25000 students who were under 7 years of age were excluded from the educational institutions in the year 2016 (Shropshirestar.com, 2020). Some of those children were temporarily executed, whereas some of those children faced a permanent exclusion. As per the “Perry Pre-School Project” youth offenders get involved in property crimes, violent crimes and drug offences.
As per the views of Törrönen et al. (2019), youth often develop specific cultural styles to cope up with particular circumstances successfully and to resist the societal pressures. Such class differentiation and non-uniform distribution of wealth often lead to the development of criminal mentality among the working-class youth.
Cloward and Ohlin’s opportunity structures theory
Cloward and Ohlin focused on combining the theories of Merton and Cohen to come up with a theory to explain the different criminal subcultures. Their opportunity structures theory aims to explain that not all people who lack financial amenities are likely to engage in illegal activities. According to the theory, there are three main illegitimate subcultures, namely ‘criminal subculture’, ‘conflict subculture’, and ‘retreatist subculture’. The criminal subculture focuses on recruiting youth in organised crimes like the mafia and drug cartels (Petrus et al. 2018). For instance, the parents of 63% of juvenile offenders are found to be involved in criminal activities. However, this theory failed to take into consideration the significance of economic background, as this often plays a crucial role in determining the behaviours of youth offenders. Thus, these groups engage in illegal activities like drug abuse, and so on (Stalans and Finn, 2019).
Impact of youth offending on public services (M1)
Youth Offending Team (YOT) in England and Wales deal with the young offenders and sets up community services to reduce the cases of re-offending. The activities of the YOTs are supervised by the “Youth Justice Board”, and they aim to reduce the rates of youth criminal activities (Gov.uk, 2020). These teams arrange a wide variety of activities and work closely with the youth offender to help them in achieving their goals. The YOTs often organise meetings between the victims and the offenders that might be effective in developing a sense of guilt and repercussions among the offenders. As stated earlier, the UK government focuses on providing proper education facilities to the young convicts.
Members of the YOTs, therefore, focus on offering these offenders with suitable educational opportunities by working together with several schools as well as colleges (Pycroft and Gough, 2010). The teams also supervise the efficiency of young offenders in serving their community sentence. They organise local ‘crime prevention programmes’ and help the convicts and their families in police stations and at courts (Gov.uk, 2020).
Investigating the risk factors contributing to youth offending (P3)
Risk factors can be defined as any possible characters that can increase the probability of an individual in suffering any form of harm. As per the views of Muncie (2014), in the case of youth offenders, risk factors can include individual personalities, family backgrounds, and local communities. However, the lack of relevant data about the family backgrounds as well as the local community does not provide the authority with an opportunity to help those children lead a healthy lifestyle. There are several risk factors that can influence an individual in committing criminal activities. For young convicts, poor behavioural skills, anti-social activities, and emotional instability can be considered as some of the primary risk factors (Yazgan et al. 2020).
Apart from these factors, dysfunctional family backgrounds, physical and sexual abuse, lack of emotional interaction with the family members, poor parenting skills, and poverty can also give rise to criminal behaviour among young people. Moreover, poor academic performance, unhealthy school environment, and bullying might also cause increased criminal behaviour among the youth (Goldson and Muncie, 2015). Socially and economically backward communities also encourage criminal behaviour among the young members of the communities.
Protective factors against youth offending (P4)
Protective factors are defined as the attributes that can decrease the possibility of an individual suffering from any harmful effect (Brown and Shillington, 2017). On the contrary to risk factors, protective factors focus on the characters that have the potential to decrease the criminal behaviour among the youth significantly. However, like risk factors, potential factors also depend on individual personalities, social and cultural aspects. In the case of young individuals who have high IQ, good social skills, and gentle behavioural traits are less likely to show criminal mentality.
Along with positive personality traits, healthy family background, strong emotional connection with parents, financial stability and availability of other resources also influence the development of good behaviour among youth (Walayat and Butt, 2017). The enthusiasm of an individual in participating in school activities, good academic grades, engaging in several extra-curricular activities and associating with fellow classmates, help to create a positive attitude, and thus can effectively prevent these young individuals from committing crimes. Individuals belonging to affluent communities show lower chances of engaging in illegal activities.
Analysing the factors contributing to youth offending in modern society (M2)
The individual personality and behavioural traits of the youth massively influenced their criminal activities. It has been studied that youth offenders often show anti-social behaviour and possess an acute dislike towards social norms (Demetriou, 2019). They often react violently and usually harbour negative emotions against the social structure. Thus, their criminal activities and psychopathic behaviour are hugely governed by their negative and violent individual mentality.
The family backgrounds play a significant role in influencing an individual during their developmental years (Foulkes and Blakemore, 2018). Kids coming from dysfunctional family set-ups often lack social skills and thus struggle in maintaining a positive outlook towards society. Moreover, lack of emotional support and interaction with their parents also adversely affect their behavioural development. It has been studied that children suffering from physical or sexual abuse in their household often show criminal behaviour due to their abnormal process of bringing up. As per the views of (Hart et al., 2017), poor parenting skills have a profound impact on the personality of a child. Relationship of children with their family members thus greatly influence their criminal behaviour.
Community and neighbourhood
Economic and cultural makeup of a community hugely affects its young members during their developmental ages. Kids belonging to a neighbourhood with high crime rates show a greater chance of engaging in criminal activities than the kids from affluent communities. Thus, the ‘bad’ neighbourhoods play a significant role in increasing the number of youth offenders in contemporary society.
From the essay, it can be concluded that youth offending is a serious issue in the UK, and the government has been taking necessary initiatives to control the criminal activities of the youth. The Youth Justice Board has been closely supervising the rates of youth offending. Several theories can be applied for understanding the development of criminal behaviour among the young people of society. It can also be concluded that there are certain risk and protective factors that influence criminal nature of young people. In this context, Merton’s strain theory states that individuals are often forced to work by following specific rules of society to achieve cultural goals.
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