Nishall’s Blog: Young people and crime

Lifestyle / Thu 17th Jul 2014 at 02:02pm

Young People and Crime

I am not an expert on crime analysis, but there are reasons why young people commit crimes whether there pretty crimes or serious ones, however they are not simple reason why young people become involved in offending. However we do know that a number of things can act together to make children more likely to commit crime.

These things include:
· problems at home or with their family
· friends (peer group pressure)
· boredom
· feeling excluded, angry and unhappy
· not wanting to go to school
· problems with drugs and alcohol

Parents are generally the most important people in their children’s lives. Their views and behaviours can have a good or bad influence on their children’s behaviour including offending behaviour.

Children are much less likely to get into trouble if their parents:
· have a good relationship with them and can talk openly with them
· can agree sensible clear rules and encourage them to stick to them as much as possible
· know where they are and what they are up to

Studies of the causes of youth offending require 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.

Protective factors are positive influences in a young person’s life that militate against the risk of offending. Protective factors are sometimes said to be the factors that produce resilience.

While it is true that the presence of multiple risk factors increases the likelihood of a young person committing an offence, the extent to which those risk factors can be said to cause the offending is not always a straight-forward relationship. Some risk factors such as poor relationships with parents, are more direct causes of offending. Other risk factors, such as poverty or conflict between parents have a more indirect or distal relationship to offending.

It is very difficult to know which risks are actually causes, and of course, this may differ between individuals. It may be possible to look at a particular individual who has already committed an offence and determine the causes of his or her offending. But at a population level, the best information we can produce is a study of risk factors for offending, and an understanding that the more risk factors an individual possesses, the more likely they are to commit offences.

‘There is no single factor that can be specified as the ’cause’ of anti-social or criminal behaviour. The tangled roots of delinquency can, more accurately, be found in the way multiple risk factors cluster together and interact in the lives of some children, while important protective factors are conspicuously absent.’

For community groups working with at-risk young people, this information is particularly relevant. An understanding of the risk factors will provide a more structured way of identifying which young people end up offending.
But an issue I have seen during my time that if a few youths commit crimes it is stereotyped to the whole age group which makes many young people whom are committing crimes to continue as it seems to be normal to them. Of course, those involved in criminal acts, such as the being anti-sociable, should be held responsible for their actions. But scapegoating all young people will not solve anything or help create a better future. That can only be achieved by showing young people there are alternatives, and that there are ways to channel their energy into positive action. That’s what projects that involve young people aim to achieve and, with the young people on our side, I know we can change this stereotype.

What should parents or community groups do to ensure that young people who are not offending remain that way and to help the young people who are committing crime? Firstly, there are no guarantees. Sometimes even young people with very positive backgrounds choose to offend. Having said that, studies have shown that following elements in a young person’s life will reduce their risks:

· Family stability – promote strong family bonds, love, and two parents together.
· Good parenting skills – reasonable rules, consistent consequences, and monitoring where the young people are and who their friends are.
· School participation.
· Community involvement – active involvement in sports, cultural, religious groups will keep them busy and foster pro-social skills.

It is impossible to be definitive about the causes of youth offending. Youth crime is not caused by a specific, easily identifiable list of factors, but by the presence in a young person’s life of multiple risk factors, and the absence of protective factors. Different individuals respond to those risk and protective factors in different ways.

Instead of discussing the causes of youth offending, it is better to approach the issue by identifying the various risk factors for offending, and talk about the interventions that can either reduce those risks or increase protective factors in a young person’s life.

It is also helpful in any discussion on the causes of offending, to understand the two main types of offender. Life-course persistent and adolescent onset offenders have different offending profiles and differ in their background risks for offending.

Interventions with life-course persistent offenders must emphasise remedial social skills if they are to have any chance of reducing future offending and deal with conduct disorder issues. Interventions with adolescent onset offenders must address, wherever relevant, any drug and alcohol problems, anti-social peers, and parenting problems.

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