At current, youth is bringing many challenges to thecriminal justice system. The media’s representation of youth has created amoral panic in society, by displaying a troubled and dangerous generation(Cohen, 1987). Newspapers are displaying headlines such as “Police launch youthcrime crackdown” (Malik, 2018:1), suggesting youth is in crisis.
This issue hasnot just affected headlines but has also created a change in policy. This paperaims to discuss youth as a current issue and look at the history of youthpolicy to see how it has had an effect on the current system. It will thendebate how the current youth secure estate is being managed and if it iseffective within the system. Finally, it will argue whether the police arecapable of being able to manage today’s youth. With many debates as to how to handle young people withinthe criminal justice system, it is clear that youth is a contemporary issue.
Youngpeople’s recidivism rates have had some reduction, meaning perhaps the youthcrisis is a just a “moral panic” (Cohen, 1987). However, the levels are stillhigh. 67% of children who served custodial sentences and were released in 2014reoffended within the following 12 months (Ministry of Justice, 2016). This may be due to modern day cultures, andnew technological challenges we face in today’s modern society. Crime ispredominant in disadvantaged neighbourhoods, with people in these areas havingsimilar characteristics such as being from the same class, race and young agegroup. This means that young people are not just offenders but also victims(Pitts & Hope, 1997). These closecommunities are prone to be ruled by gangs, and have been reported in the mediafor use of violence and fire arms (Pitts, 2008). The deprived neighbourhoodscan get stuck in a life of crime due to the embedded culture of the communityand lack of opportunity for young people to grow up and achieve their goals(Pitts, 2015).
The current youth population is under scrutiny, as the CrimeSurvey of England and Wales has reported a 25% increase in cyber-crimes such asfraud (ONS, 2014). This is due to the rapid increase in technological knowledgewhich has resulted in many new devices such as android phones. As newtechnology such as smart phones and tablets are marketed to the younger generation,this can mean that youth cannot just be the offenders committing cyber-crimes,but also be targeted as victims. This complex new technology has brought securityissues such as viruses intruding on individuals personal data, allowing crimessuch as fraud to become simple to achieve.
A further issue that technology hascreated is the increase in sexual crimes, in particular the new sexual offenceof ‘sexting’. This is sending and receiving sexually provocative indecentimages over the internet or through text messages. In the year 2012 to 2013there was over 14,000 police recorded charges for the creation of indecent sexualimages. This number is thought to be much less than the real number of sexualimages being created (Pitts, 2015). By looking at these current issues, we cansee the challenges of youth the criminal justice system has to face. There has been a prolonged debate about how to deal withchildren in the criminal justice system. The 1969 Children and Young PersonsAct emphasised a policy of ‘intermediate treatment’ (Goldson, 1997:77).
This targeted child offenders or those withpotential to offend, as it was found that even though youths were offending itwas also youths that were the victims. Unfortunately, the method of earlyintervention with children who were at risk of becoming offenders wasineffective, as assuming that those with certain characteristics will offend isan unevidenced conclusion. As the 1970’s-80’s approached, the policy aimed atwelfare of young people swayed to justice due to change to conservativepolitics and new research (Goldson, 1997). This change occurred as thegovernment worried about the welfare approach being too lenient on children andthat social workers rewarded delinquency instead of punishing it (House ofCommons, 1975).
In the late 80’s, youth justice was directed away from being eitherwelfare or justice. The managerialism approach suggested that neither methodswere effective in dealing with delinquent youths and believed that simplymanaging young offenders in order to protect society would be the most cost-effective way to deal with the youth crisis (Malcolm, 1992). However, by the late 90’s, this system wasfound to be uneconomic and ineffective (Renshaw, 1998). At current, all types of crime that are being recorded bythe police is falling (ONS, 2014). This includes a decline in youth justice,this could mean a decline in youth crime. However, we suggest it is due to achange in policy and how youth cases are formally dealt with through thecriminal justice system. By the beginningof 2016, it was found that 48% of cases dealt with by the police were closed dueto limited evidence (Bateman, 2017), meaning crime rates may be higher thanrecorded. Most recently, the Charlie Taylor review outlined policies that willneed to be changed in order to create a more effective youth justice system.
Hestated that children should not be treated in the same way as adults as they donot have the emotional maturity to act and communicate as adults. He alsosuggested that education is the route to reduce reoffending, as well aschanging youth offending institutions into secure schools that not only punisha child, but give them the opportunity to succeed in the outside world oncetheir sentence is complete (Taylor, 2016). Within the Criminal Justice System, we can see issues in thesecure estate that are in debate. One issue is the fact that youth offenderinstitutions do not prevent young people from reoffending.
This can beexplained through the case of James Bulger. James Bulger was a two year old boywho was abducted by two ten year old boys, Jon Venables and Robert Thomson,whilst with his mother at a shopping centre in Merseyside. The young boyswalked with James for two miles before attacking him with bricks, stones andmetal. The two year old boy died from severe injuries to the head. Thomson and Venablesthen placed James’s body on a railway line in Liverpool before the body was hitby a train (Sharrat, 1993). Jon Venables and Robert Thomson were both convictedof murder in Merseyside in the year 1993 and placed in secure centres (BBC,2013).
Venables was released from prison in 2001 but brought back in 2010 afterprobation found child pornography images. After being released again, he hasrecently been once again brought back for possessing indecent images on hishome computer in November 2017. This high profile case shows that youngoffenders being punished by being placed into secure estates can lead tocontinued criminal activity in adulthood and does not reduce rates ofrecidivism.
(Khomami, 2017).From looking at youth as a contemporary issue, we know thatthe majority of young people placed within the secure estate reoffend within 12months (Ministry of Justice, 2016). In May 2016 the number of children incarceratedin the secure estate was 870. This had dramatically fallen by 70% when thenumber was 3,006 in May 2008 (Youth Justice Board, 2016). This has led to theclosure of many young offenders’ institutions, secure children’s homes as wellas secure training centres.
Secure children’s homes are for those who areparticularly vulnerable and have been reported to have good levels of educationand training for children. 65% of those within secure children’s homes alsobelieve that they are in the best place considering they are legally obliged tobe in custody. However, of those incarcerated that are below the age of 18, 73%are placed in young offender institutions compared to one in ten that are incarceratedin secure children’s homes. These institutions are much similar to an adultprison due to the high populations and the primary function to punishoffenders, young offender institutions have been criticised due to the lack ofwelfare based rehabilitation that children need (Bateman, 2016).A further argument for young offender’s institutions beingineffective within the youth criminal justice system, is that they have anegative impact upon children’s health and wellbeing. It is reported at thebeginning of 2012, that 33% of young boys said they had an issue with problem druguse when they were admitted to custody. By this time the percentage had raisedto 36%. It is also clear to see that there is a high prevalence of mentalhealth and emotional issues in youth offending institutions as boys whoadmitted to struggling with mental health problems on admission to custody hadalso increased from 21% to 24% over the two years.
There is also a high rate ofself-harm that is increasing, with 5 out of 100 children per month self-harmingin 2010 which increased to nearly 8 out of 100 in 2015. These increasing ratesof mental health issues suggest that the adult-like conditions of young offenderinstitutions are not appropriate for children. We suggest that staff withinsecure estates should be trained on how to deal with children’s mental healthissues so that the justice system can be more effective in reducing reoffending(Bateman, 2016).
This could be achieved by the idea of a multi-agency systemwhich is stated in the Charlie Taylor report so that health services can assistin supporting the vulnerable with mental health issues (Taylor, 2016). In a study in the north of England, it was found that 77% ofyoung people in young offender institutions were identified as having analcohol use disorder. This is an issue as it is known that excessive drinkingcan lead to an increase in disorderly and criminal behaviour. The alcohol problemwithin youth offender institutions is a contributing factor to thousands ofviolent offences each year and is costing the criminal justice system millionsof pounds (Newbury-Birch et al., 2015). With such high rates, the aim of youthoffender institutions as being rehabilitative establishments is ineffective asproblem drinking is much more likely to increase the risk of young peoplereoffending.
As there is such a large prevalence of drinking disorders withinthe secure estate, it is clear that the current system has not got the knowledgeor resources to deal with alcohol treatments that should be available and specificallyfocused towards children.As we have discussed, young offender institutions have asimilar environment to adult prisons, this means that violence within youngoffenders institutions is on a similar level to adult prisons. In one study itwas found that 73.52% of offenders in secure estates had felt victimized byother inmates within the previous three months when data was recorded. It isalso interesting to compare that secure training centres which are units where morevulnerable children are placed, 24% said they had felt unsafe at one pointwhilst being incarcerated.
Whereas, the rate was 33% for those in youngoffender institutes, suggesting secure training centres may have lower violencerates (Haufle & Wotler, 2015). Aggression, violence and victimisation canbe used by new inmates in order to assert power as it is a part of prisonculture. Conflict is usually resolved through violence rather thancommunicating issues like individuals generally would outside of the secureestate (Haufle & Wotler, 2015).
Fromdiscussing the secure estate, we can see that there is a difference betweendifferent types of institutions and that there are issues within the estatethat could be increasing the chance of offending. These arguments suggest thatthe current downward trend in youth secure estate numbers in beneficial. Another aspect that can affect the issue of youth in thecriminal justice system is policing.
This is one of the most important partswithin the justice system as the police determine which individuals will gothrough the formal justice system and who will not (Bateman, 2017). Recently,there has been a sharp decline in the number of children being arrested foroffences in the UK. The number has dropped from 351,644 to 88, 517 by thebeginning of 2016 (Ministry of Justice, 2015) which could suggest a fall inyouth criminal activity. However, it is most likely that the change in policyover recent years has affected the way in which the police respond to children.The fall in arrests can be explained through the new policing method of ‘communityresolution’ which is a way in which police officers can deal with low-levelcrime on the street. It is usually used with first time offenders and hasreported to have reduced the levels of children who go through formal processes(Bateman, 2017). This is a positive forthe justice system as we have already discussed that secure estates are generallyineffective. A further method that is used in policing is stop and search,this intrusive method of the police gathering evidence is known to havetraumatic effects on some children (Bateman, 2017), yet the justice systemstill continues to use it.
However, in recent years the number of stop andsearches has declined, from 1,177,327 at the beginning of 2010 dropping to386,474 at the same time in 2016 (Home Office, 2016). This decline is inresponse to criticism that ethnic minority young males are targeted more thanwhite young males due to unfair stereotyping. Although this decline is apositive, it is still argued that stop and searches on young people areconducted unnecessarily due to the effects that they can have upon children.(Bateman, 2017). From looking at youth in the justice system, we can see thatthe topic brings challenges, including the current technological boom and howthat has effected crime (Pitts, 2015).
In spite of this, recidivism rates havedecreased suggesting that the problem has been overrepresented in the mediacausing a moral panic (Cohen, 1987). There has been a debate throughout historywith different approaches to policy which has led to current policy suggestingthat the youth cannot be treated in the same way as adults (Taylor, 2016). By discussingthe secure estate in depth, we can conclude that youth offender institutionsare ineffective in preventing reoffending and increase the likelihood of issuessuch as mental health problems, alcoholism and violence. (Bateman 2016; Newbury-Birchet al. 2015; Haufle & Wotler, 2015). From comparing them to secure children’shomes we can see that smaller and more welfare based secure estates are moreeffective.
The drop in the number of arrests on children and increase incommunity resolutions has been argued to be effective (Bateman, 2017). However,although the number of stop and searches have decreased, it is still used inpolicing methods which can cause traumatic experiences for children (Bateman,2017). Overall, the criminal justice system is still in debate as to how youthshould be treated. The Charlie Taylor review has influenced the recent drop inarrests and children in secure units (Taylor, 2016) but those still within thesecure estate and those who are being policed are not being given the supportto stay out of the criminal justice system.