Youth crime has been a huge issue in today’s society with more and more young people being put behind bars. But is youth crime still on the rise or is it just being amplified by the media to cause moral panic amongst the public?

The minimum age of criminal responsibility is set at 10 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and has been for a number of years now. Is this the right age for us to be convicting ‘children’ who aren’t even fully developed? Brain research shows that the human brain goes through a slow maturation process between ages 10 through 25. Prior to full brain development children exhibit the following behaviours more coincidentally vs. consistently: Decision making, use of appropriate judgment, rational thinking Integration of emotion & critical thinking, ability to think clearly about long-term outcomes that stem from behaviours, global thinking vs. self-centred thinking. Could it be argued that there is no such thing as young offenders?! However, if we are to consider young children as offenders, statistics shows that almost all offence types fell in frequency between 2007 and 2010, with drug offences being the notable exception. The highest-volume categories of offence remain theft and handling, violence against a person and criminal damage. The number of first time juvenile entrants to the criminal justice system has fallen every year since a peak in 2007. Overall crime levels have fallen substantially since the mid-1990s.

The British Crime Survey suggests that the risk of being an adult victim of crime in 2008 was at its lowest level since measurements began in 1982. Genuine concerns remain about trends in some categories of serious offending involving young people – notably an association between the use of weapons, gang membership and drug dealing in major cities. There is, however, no evidence from self-report surveys of any increase overall in youth crime in the first decade of the twenty-first century – or in the proportion of serious or frequent young offenders. Children and young people are generally law-abiding. So why is it that youth crimes are constantly being reported on the news, in newspapers etc. when more serious crimes such as child abduction or murder is occurring in the world? Are young people simply being used as scape goats in order to cover the lack of effort government are doing to protect them. But what are the reasons behind young people offending? A study of the causes of youth offending requires an analysis of risk and protective factors. A risk factor indicates the likelihood that a young person will commit an offence. Risk factors tend to fall into five categories – individual characteristics, family factors, school/work factors, associations with peers, and biological factors. The more risk factors a child or young person exhibits, the more likely they are to commit offences.The presence of just one risk factor is unlikely to lead to offending.

The Christchurch longitudinal study found that children from families with 19 or more risk factors were 100 times more likely to end up with multiple problems as teenagers (including offending), than the 50% of the sample who had just six or fewer risk factors. However each young person is different and may have different reasons to committing crimes, the question is what are the government doing to stop youth crimes? Youth crime action plan Begun in 2008 with a budget of £100 million over 2½ years. Targeting to reduce the number of young people entering the criminal justice system by 20 per cent by 2020. The Youth Justice Board: ‘an executive non-departmental public body oversees the youth justice system in England and Wales, working to prevent offending and re-offending by children and young people under the age of 18, and ensuring that custody for them is safe, secure, and addresses the causes of their offending behaviour. One of the major programmes used for young offenders is the youth offending institutes- Young Offender Institutions was introduced under the Criminal Justice Act 1988 and are today regulated by the Young Offender Institution Rules 2000, which are effectively the equivalent of the Prison Rules 1999 that apply to adult prisons in the UK. YOIs and juvenile establishments can however be criticised as it has the highest assault rates of any prisons in England and Wales. We also have youth centres in place, which gives young kids a place to hang out and ‘chill’ with mates, to talk about their problems and get help within their local youth centre.

So why is it that the budget for youth centres are constantly being cut, with most already shut down? One in four of England’s youth services face catastrophic cuts of between 21-30 per cent – three times higher than the general level of council cuts. Many authorities intend to get rid of their youth services completely, while 80% of voluntary organisations providing services for young people have said programmes will be cut. So if major programmes such as institutions for young people aren’t working, why are we shutting down the minor projects such as local youth centres which do work, then complaining that youth crimes are ‘supposedly’ on the rise again? If the statistics are indeed true in proving that the media is causing unnecessary moral panic in youth crime, why is it that the government are intent in proving them right by cutting help for the young whilst raising prices on education!

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