Effective Recent Responses To Youth Crime Criminology Essay

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This essay will look at how effective recent responses to youth crime have been in Britain. The essay will also look at the implications at professionals, society and families on these responses.

In Britain young people who have committed crime are seen as a natural source of trouble and anxiety. The categorising and complementing of youth are established by society. If someone new appears first appearances anticipate their category and attribute their social identity. If and when a youth commits a crime, they can be seen as different from others, less desirable, as bad influences, dangerous or extreme. Such constitutes a special discrepancy between virtual and actual social identity. [1] (Goffman, (1984 p.11-56)

Law and justice agencies have an image of youth that they have held on to for many years. This has become fundamental on how they respond to youth activities in terms of policing, judging and correcting. These agencies may argue that they are simply serving the law, but in actual fact they influence the imaging, stereotyping or socio-political imperativeness of the youth. The problem that is faced by criminal justice agencies is that they are always one step behind on the well being of youths. The agencies normally respond after events have happened. When they attend after events have happened, they always rely on second hand information as they would not have observed the actual case, "the reactive mode of justice par excellence." The interpretations police get when investigating youth crime are always different meaning they then have to piece together statements that are either over exaggerated or with concealed information.

In Britain young people are always seen as a source of trouble and anxiety lower class younger men especially have been seen and feared since the late 19th century. Several identities have risen such as the otherness, immorality and failure. At least seven other images have emerged: the romantic child, the evangelical child the factory child, the Apollonian child, the psycho medical child, the welfare child and the delinquent child. The delinquent child has been marginalised as the youth criminal and is the most feared and disliked child in Britain [2] (Omaji, p.18). In the seventeenth century, enormous houses of confinement were created. In this century those suspected to be madmen were confined in the houses that also housed hospitals, prisons and jails. The people confined were those condemned by the common law, people without a profession

Looking at some examples of recent responses to youth crime, one that has received a lot of coverage was that of James Bulger's murder. Two ten year old boys were filmed in Central Liverpool abducting the two year old. James Bulger's murder formed the basis of political and media responses to youth crime and at least three consequences. The reconsideration of the age in which a youth could be charged with a crime was lowered to ten. Secondly it helped put the fear moral panic in adults concerning youths. Lastly it helped legitimise tough laws and orders responses to youth crime [3] (Muncie, p.3). Even though the crime was rare, the media created to groups of children: the ideal child and the inherently evil i.e. the two ten year olds. The Prime Minister' reaction was that of condemning a little more and understanding a little less., with the Home Secretary also labelling the boys as nasty pieces of work.

When Michael Howard became Home Secretary, his response to youth crime was the bringing in tough policies to cut crime and the use of custodial sentence. He also made the way for events leading to the cautioning of offenders. The Guardian commented that Michael Howard's appointment coincided with a surge of interest in the tabloid and the Murdoch press. The Sun ran a campaign for justice, highlighting violent crime [4] (The Guardian, 1997). Howard's way of waging war on offenders drew pace as the custodial screw was "tightened in relation to youth offenders."

Even when new Labour came to power in 1997, the response they had to youth crime was showing that punitiveness toward young people was broader than party politics [5] (Maguire 1998, p.70-77). The then shadow Home Secretary Jack Straw and shadow Home Affairs ministers Alun Michael were quoted to saying: "At the heart of the crisis in youth justice is confusion and conflict between welfare and punishment. Too many people involved with the system are unclear whether the purpose is to punish and signify society's disapproval of offending; or whether the welfare of the young offender is paramount because their personal development is incomplete." [6] (Crime and Disorder Bill, 1997) They both continued to talk about whether the sanctions had insufficient rehabilitative to them or were simply punishment. This was published in the labour white paper which added that Crime and Disorder Bill was going to make clear of the aim of the youth justice system was to prevent offending by young people. Labour views were that the welfare of an individual offender could not overtake the need to protect a community as a whole. The same also happened at the beginning of the 17th century when confining started (Foucault, p.36) [7] .

With the tabloids now in action this created "moral panics." There are five components of the moral panic concept and five spheres within which panics are expressed. [8] (Goode & Yehuda, 2009 p.49) The components are:

concern or fear;

hostility toward the fork devil;

the level of consensus about the nature of the threat;

a disproportion between the concern and the threat;

A certain degree of volatility of the concern, an evanescent or coming and going quality that does not characterize more ongoing threats.

And the five spheres are:

the general public

the media

social movement activity

political activity i.e. laws, speeches

Law enforcement such as police and courts.

These moral panics are normally driven by more than gossip or rumour today. The mass media thrives on moral panics so that they can sell as many papers, entertain the readers and most importantly to them, generate further news. Such mass media has a need for moral panics that they have even engineered moral panics on youth crime for the generation of front page news (Goode & Yehuda, 2009 p.51). With such an orthodox Marxist approach, the tabloids engineer most of their material for status and gain (p.54). Youth crime has been saving as secondary targets to deflect attention from the real case of a solvable problem.

How are these panics turned into (youth) criminalisation? This is done in three ways. Firstly: deviant behaviour that is harmful tends to offend the common conscience. Secondly is about the whether society is more complex or less about the trueness, and how the behaviour harms society so that it can be defined as a crime. Finally the criminal law tends to represent society, the collective conscience, public sentiment and objective (p.119). There is now a statutory duty for social workers, police forces and other professionals to implement strategies for the reduction of youth crime. Common with most professionals is the carrying out of audits of local crime and consulting with the local community, the publishing of audits, strategies and targets. This routine has had a massive effect in policy and practice. The move has also seen single agency focused crime prevention to a shared agency responsibility. It has also assumed communities to play a role in promoting and delivering community based crime prevention (Goldson & Muncie, 2004 p.159) [9] .

Community safety practice has given the central focus on youth crime. With parents also not being left out, the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2004 brought out parenting orders aimed at parents who recklessly ands deliberately fail their children (p.140). Professionals now have procedures for presentencing and guidelines where young offenders are concerned. Youth offending teams and panels have been made up for giving attention especially to repeat offenders.

2000 to 2001 saw the first referral orders in England and Wales piloted. After the piloting scheme the conclusion was that the offender panels were established as constructive, deliberative and participatory forums. These addressed young people's behaviour which by 2004 had seen over 27000 referrals in the whole of England and Wales. Parents were also positive about the programme (p.113). Although positive evaluation came out, there were also concerns about referral orders. Children as young as ten without appropriate representation were being forced into traumatic confrontation. In a room full of adults these youngsters were coerced into signing involving serious deprivations of their liberty (p.113).

Communities also haven't been left out. The Guardian had a caption on youth restorative justice. It quoted: "Local communities must be given a greater say in determining the punishments meted out to young people if youth re-offending rates are to be reduced." "The approach can involve direct compensation to the victim, such as cleaning up graffiti or returning stolen property, or indirect compensation such as voluntary work in the community. If there is serious or persistent re-offending the community has the option to refer the offender to the criminal courts.

'The government's approach to youth justice, which still relies heavily on police targets for people being 'brought to justice', has resulted in a disproportionate number of young people being arrested and prosecuted for easy-to-solve, low-level crimes committed by children and teenagers, often with complex problems,' said Carey Oppenheim." [10] (The Guardian, 2009)

Other professionals implicated in the response to youth crime include the increase of on the beat police. Community support officers roam the streets of London to tackle knife crime. The different boroughs police commanders now brief their local magistrates on the impact of youth violence in their local communities. Safer school officers were deployed to 185 top priority schools and colleges across London to tackle youth crime. The implications of youth crime can also be felt in the welfare and policy making for the whole of the United Kingdom.

The last century has seen continuous debates about whether youth crime is related to childhood deprivation or that its simply young criminals deserving punishment. This interest in the welfare of criminal youths started in the 19th century. Victorian reformers pressed for separation of adult offenders and wanted special institutes for the young offenders. There was now strict discipline at schools those days as youth were taught trades and the imprisonment of children was now less. In the 1960's also, the Children and Young Person Act 1969 (CYP) marked the hide tide of welfarism. If a youth committed a crime it was deemed to be a symptom need socially. The Act transferred the responsibility for young offenders from the criminal justice system to welfare agencies. The Care Order which was one of the Act's measures provided one of the grounds for transferring parental responsibility to the local community. The CYP received hostility from police and magistrates who regarded welfarism as soft on youth crime (Baldock, Manning and Vickerstaff, 2007 p.496-497). [11] 

In conclusion then, there have been some radical changes in the way the general public view youth crime. More and more people are now aware of the moral panics created by the media to generate the sales of their products. It would seem that, if these are to succeed in the expressed aim of separating out the political from the legislative, they could ultimately result in greater justice and an improved legal service for all though this is likely to take some time to be realised. There remain some deeply controversial issues, notably around issues of social exclusion vis-à-vis a truly universal access to justice, which have yet to be addressed. As the earlier quote said:" Too many people involved with the system are unclear whether the purpose is to punish and signify society's disapproval of offending; or whether the welfare of the young offender is paramount because their personal development is incomplete". The problem that is faced by criminal justice agencies is that they are always one step behind on the well being of youths. The agencies normally respond after events have happened. The agencies need to work together to be on a level with youth offenders so that more youths' need come first.