Youth Crime

Prevalence of Youth Crime

The number of young people found guilty by the juvenile courts or formally cautioned by police has fallen in England and Wales over the past 20 years. However, it is generally believed that this is not an accurate measure and that youth crime is far more prevalent than recorded crime suggests. Both police recorded crime statistics and national surveys of the victims of crime show that the types of offence most often committed by young people - such as violence and taking vehicles - have risen dramatically over the same period.

More than four out of ten males and one in ten females are likely to be found guilty or cautioned for an indictable offence at some point during their lives. However, it is also true that a comparatively small proportion of the population - about 5 per cent of males - are persistent offenders who account for about half of all known offending. Individuals more often break the law when they are young. Young people who become involved in crime before they are 14 tend to become the most persistent offenders, with longer criminal careers.

Risk factors

The major risk factors for youth offending are:

Individual Factors - includes hyperactivity and impulsive behaviour; early onset of aggressive and other problem behaviour; being male

Family - poor parental supervision; harsh or erratic discipline; family conflict; parental criminality; low family income

Peers delinquent peer group; high proportion of unsupervised time spent with peers School Low attainment; low commitment/truancy; aggressive behaviour and bullying; exclusions; school disorganisation

Community Poverty - disadvantaged, neglected neighbourhood; community disorganisation, high turnover and lack of social ties; drug availability

A great deal is known about risk factors but little attention has been paid to factors that protect young people, especially those from high-risk backgrounds, from offending. Those factors that are known include having: a resilient temperament; a warm, affectionate relationship with at least one parent; parents who provide effective supervision, pro-social beliefs and consistent discipline; and parents who maintain a strong interest in their children's education. An understanding of how to build on the positive features influencing individuals, their families and communities can be used to increase the effectiveness of prevention strategies.

Efforts to modify the risk factors associated with delinquency include community crime prevention programmes, with a focus on achieving physical improvements in disadvantaged neighbourhoods and providing recreational facilities for young people. Crime prevention in the UK has tended to emphasise measures designed to reduce the opportunities for crime in particular situations. Techniques include increased surveillance by closed circuit cameras, improving physical security, and protecting individuals against re-victimisation.

Children leaving custody homelessness

An example of the impact of a risk factor are children being released from custody into unsuitable and unsafe housing, leaving them vulnerable to reoffending at huge cost to themselves, and society.

Barnardo’s research - No Fixed Abode - has found that a young person caught in a cycle of homelessness and re-offending can cost the Government as much as £116,094 over three years - but if they receive the necessary support there could be savings of £67,000 per child.

In 2009-10, youth offender institutions referred 4,147 young people to the charity, all of whom said housing was among their top five concerns. "Young people who offend are among the most vulnerable in society; a quarter have special educational needs and almost a fifth have depression, yet children as young as 13 are sent back to families who can't cope and end up without a safe place to live," said Anne Marie Carrie, Barnado's chief executive.

Previous research has shown that stable accommodation can reduce the risk of youth reoffending by up to 20%.

The Youth Crime and Youth Justice 

Tackling youth crime must be an essential part of any CDRP's work programme. Whether it is identified as a topic in its own right or a thematic issue (youth crime and robbery, youth crime and burglary etc) it must feature in any plan to reduce crime and disorder. However, with an awareness of the risk factors, the ways in which youth crime are tackled are significant to outcomes.

Tackling the causes of youth crime, and seeking to prevent it, are critically important and reflected in Part III of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. In this Act the principle aim of youth justice is to prevent offending. This principle aim has a direct impact upon those statutory and non statutory services that work within the English and Welsh youth justice system.

The Youth Justice Board (YJB)

The Youth Justice Board was set up under Part III of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. Its principle aim is to prevent offending and reoffending by children and   young people. It is responsible for coordinating government action against youth offending, for overseeing the work of Youth Offending Teams (YOTs), and for encouraging and spreading good practice (see Youth Justice Portal).

Youth Offending Teams (YOTs)

Youth Offending Teams are local teams which bring together professionals from organisations such as social services, the police, probation, education and health. YOTs have several roles including:

Community Punishment provision - includes supervision of community sentences as below.

Provision of Court Duty - Youth Justice Court social welfare services and Pre- sentence report writing

Provision of specialist programmes - these include elements of youth drugs intervention programmes and youth crime diversion.

Youth Crime Disposals - Sentences

If a child or young person has committed a first or second minor offence, a system of Reprimands and Final Warnings can be used by the police. If the police do decide to take formal action then this will consist of, in the first place, an interview with the young person, accompanied by an “appropriate adult”. This may or may not be followed by further action, depending on the outcome of investigation and the seriousness of the offence.

If this does result in further action then Youth Courts have the power to give Detention and Training Orders of up to 24 months, as well as a range of non-custodial sentences for young people including:

Reparation Order; Referral Order;  Attendance Centre Order; Action Plan OrderSupervision Order; Community Rehabilitation Order (young people aged 16-17 only); Community Punishment Order (young people aged 16-17 only); Community Punishment and Rehabilitation Order (young people aged 16-17 only).

Youth Violence

The continuing youth knife crime and gun crime crime incidents in England have highlighted the complexity of youth gang violence and the difficulties in effective and sustainable prevention.

The knife crime report Fear and Fashion , written by Gerard Lemos in 2004, goes some way in explaining the youth violence and the use of weapons in a 'delinquent sub culture'. The breakdown in social structures (families, extended families, supportive communities), the established alienation of large sections of the youth population of our inner cities and the fashionable nature of idea of violence are key elements which are the fuel of actual violence and the use of weapons.

If we accept that fractured communities and delinquent sub cultures are the mix which tolerates youth murder, the sustainable answer to the problem must be to effectively enforce the law; strengthen families (whatever their structure) through effective intervention; rebuild communities, through community development, and challenge the negative aspects of youth subculture through the provision of effective youth services and positive intervention in schools.

The Summer 2011 Riots added an additional dimention to both youth crime and youth violent crime. Following the disorder in August across cities in England, the Prime Minister asked the Home Secretary to lead a review, alongside the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, into the growing problem of gangs and gang violence.

The cross-government report, Ending Youth Violence, published on 1 November 2011,
looks into the scale of the problem of gang and youth violence, analyses its causes, and identifies what can be done by government and other agencies to stop the violence and to turn around the lives of those involved. It sets out detailed plans to make this happen through:

  • providing support to local areas to tackle the problem
  • preventing young people becoming involved in violence in the first place, with a new emphasis on early intervention and prevention
  • pathways out of violence and the gang culture for young people wanting to make a break with the past
  • punishment and enforcement to suppress the violence of those refusing to exit violent lifestyles
  • partnership-working to join up the way local areas respond to gang and other youth violence

Youth Crime (Policy) Links

The Independent Commission on Youth Crime and Anti Social Behaviour

The commission has identified a set of principles for responding fairly, effectively and proportionately to anti-social behaviour and offending by children and young people and campaigns and promotes the principles contained in its report Time for a Fresh Start.

Supporting Youth at Risk: A Policy Toolkit for Middle Income Countries



This Policy Toolkit is produced in response to a growing demand from government clients
and partners for advice on how to create and implement effective policies for at-risk youth. The Toolkit highlights 22 policies (six core policies, nine promising policies, and seven general policies) that have been effective in addressing the following 5 key risk areas for young people around the world.

11 Million: Young People and Gun and Knife Crime

This report, commissioned by ‘11 MILLION’ (the organisation led by the Children’s Commissioner for England, Sir Al Aynsley-Green), from the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, provides a detailed overview of what 'the highest quality research evidence tells us about gun and knife crime interventions for young people'.

Youth Crime (General) Links

Youth Crime and Delinquency: protecting children and reducing crime

PowerPoint presentation from Martin Davis to the Centre for Parliamentary Studies event entitled "Breaking the Cycle of Youth Offending: A Renewed Approach to Protecting Children at Risk Through Early Intervention", on February 2008.

The most useful websites on Youth Justice: Guardian Society

A selection of youth justice websites collated by the UK quality newspaper.

From Punishment to Problem Solving: A new approach to children in trouble

A policy paper written by Rob Allen (2006) for the UK Centre for Crime and Justice which highlights the issues of special needs and mental health issues in dealing with young people in the criminal justice system, identifying good practice. The website of the Youth Justice Board for England and Wales (YJB) government co-ordinating body for youth crime reduction and prevention.

Safe, Sensible, Social

UK national alcohol strategy published by Department of Helath in 2007