Responding to Crime in Europe

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The following essay seeks to focus on the topic of juvenile crime and the methods of juvenile crime prevention currently in vogue in liberal western democracies at the dawn of the twenty first century. This is an inherently important and complex topic that represents the front line of contemporary criminological debate with the issue of juvenile crime residing high on the agenda of every major political party in the UK at the present time. Indeed, the topic is so expansive that it transcends criminology so as to embrace politics, sociology and economics as a variety of inter-related academic and policy making fields seek to directly address the escalating problem of delinquency and lawlessness among young people in the contemporary era. The twin issues of juvenile crime and juvenile crime prevention are also impacted upon (arguably more so than any other form of criminal group or crime prevention strategy) by public opinion, which is itself fostered by a rampant global mass media apparatus that has historically created folk devils and moral panics as a means of maintaining the erstwhile divide between society's insiders and society's outsiders (Cohen, 2002; Marsh and Melville, 2008). Thus we have to understand from the outset that juvenile crime - because of the way in which it impacts across such a large section of society - is an inherently subjective topic that does not have a right or a wrong answer. Individual criminological schools and individual criminological theories of crime and crime prevention cannot 'explain' juvenile crime; they can only attempt to respond to it. As a result, before we can begin our discussion in earnest we need to offer a brief definition of what is meant by 'developmental criminology' in order to establish a conceptual framework for the remainder of the essay.

Developmental criminology

Developmental criminology (which can also be understood in terms of 'life course' perspectives) looks in the first instance to chart the correlation between age, development, the transition from adolescence to adulthood and the myriad of individual, collective and societal problems that this entails. As a result, we should understand that, "the core of developmental and life-course perspectives is that progress along trajectories is age related. Because of that, some transitions are age appropriate while others are 'off-age', occurring either too early or too late." (Thornberry, 2004:5) By this, we mean to state that 'off-age' transitions (such as prematurely leaving a parent's home or becoming a teenaged parent) clearly and identifiably affects the transition and the trajectory from adolescence to adulthood with some youngsters made to undergo this most difficult of transitions at an overly young age while others are hampered in their development only going through the transitional process later in life. Developmental and life-course perspectives therefore centre upon the sociological and psychological consequences of growing up as a means of understanding the proliferation of crime, lawlessness and deviance among young people in contemporary western post-industrial society. The existence of such a link between young people and crime is an issue that has long been the cause for considerable conjecture between criminologists, sociologists, psychologists and politicians in the modern era with a lack of consensus emerging over the relationship between young people and crime. However, as Tim Newburn observes, there is, in the final analysis, a clear 'age-crime curve' identifiable in modern western states with a "clear pattern to the relationship between age and offending with the prevalence of offending during the teenage years, peeking somewhere in the late teens and declining thereafter." (Newburn, 2007:843) Thus, we should understand from the outset the way in which the undeniable link between young people and crime has historically been explained as a necessary process of the transition and the trajectory to adulthood which is often distorted in many of the more disadvantaged areas of capitalist society. This is an important point to note and one that ought to be borne in mind throughout the remainder of the discussion. Viewed through this prism, the core features of the developmental criminology can be understood in distinctly positivist terms with juvenile crime being interpreted as a form of social science that can be charted, measured and digested in the same way as a more fundamentally empirical scientist would study data in a lab. Developmental criminology is therefore a discernibly sociological theory of criminology that draws upon the ideological blueprint laid down by Comte and Durkheim in the nineteenth century, continued by the Chicago School of criminology in the early twentieth century (Rock, 2007:3-43). Yet whereas these early criminological traditions sought to explain crime, lawlessness and disorder as a being a natural even necessary offshoot of the social disorganisation of the post-industrial city, developmental criminology seeks to apply the same rational, logical approach to juvenile crime. Consequently, we should understand that whereas the positivist schools of criminology sought to understand crime as a logical offshoot of the triumph of capitalism (with its incumbent divide between the rich and the poor; the haves and the have-nots), developmental schools of criminology seek to understand the undeniable link between young people and crime as being a result of the same ills produced by the same capitalist system (Hagan, 2004:287-309). As a result, we must make a point of acknowledging that developmental criminology understands and explains juvenile crime as an inevitable by-product of capitalist life. Because of this premise, developmental criminology does not attempt to find a means of eradicating juvenile crime from contemporary society as it is impossible to eradicate that which is endemic; rather, developmental criminology seeks to attempt to 'manage' juvenile crime in much the same way as the Chicago School of criminology in the 1930s sought to attempt to manage urban crime in capitalist American cities.

Risk Management

In attempting to manage juvenile crime the developmental school of criminology can clearly be seen to have moved into the realms of 'risk management' and 'risk assessment' theory (Buruma, 2004:41-62). By this we mean to state that the developmental and life-course approaches to the link between young people and crime suggest a decidedly individualistic approach to criminology, sociology and psychology which involves adopting a predictive lens through which to study and interpret juvenile crime. Developmental criminologists are therefore charged with attempting to find a 'model' via which the state can chart the evolution of criminal activity among young people. As McLaughlin and Muncie duly note, "developmental preventive interventions are designed to prevent the development of criminal potential in individuals, especially targeting the risk and protective factors discovered in studies of human development." (McLaughlin and Muncie, 2005:86) This, quite clearly, is an inherently problematic approach to adopt with the triggers for crime and disorder among young people being many and varied, affected by a wide variety of competing sociological, psychological, cultural and economic forces. What might constitute a trigger for crime and lawlessness for one young person might not pose a problem for another young person faced with the same set of social, cultural, psychological and sociological problems. As cognitive psychological theories have concluded, the mental development 'map' that a child goes through upon his or her transition from adolescence to adulthood is not something that can be charted in the same way as, for instance, a biologists is able to chart the evolution of genetics in the human body (Shaw et al, 2003:480-491). Thus, the developmental school of criminology has been forced via a combination of circumstance and social realism to seek a less individualistic approach to preventing youth crime. It is at this point that the concepts of community safety and community protection enter the discussion as these constitute vital elements to the preventive approach that resides at the ideological epicentre of the developmental school of criminology. In attempting to safeguard the broader community from the side effects of youth crime and juvenile delinquency, practitioners of developmental criminology have paved the way for the proliferation of community-wide preventive approaches to juvenile crime. When, for instance, we pause to consider the advent and subsequent promulgation of the ideal of the anti-social behaviour order (ASBO) we can see that the there is presently a clear and identifiable attempt on the part of the state to prove a "causal or developmental connection between anti-social behaviour and more developed criminal careers


As consequence, we can see that one of the major implications for juvenile crime posited by the advent of developmental criminology is that the state has done away with the outmoded idea that young people are able to simply 'grow out of' delinquency and deviance so as to concentrate instead upon the sociological sub-strata of young people whose delinquent ways are likely to turn into lifelong associations with crime and lawlessness. Developmental criminology therefore aims to directly address the link between youth crime (be it low-level crime such as anti-social behaviour or more serious instances of lawlessness) and adult crime, cementing the connection between the positivist tradition and the developmental tradition in the process. Ultimately, then, we should acknowledge the way in which developmental criminology implies adopting a punitive approach to crime prevention strategies amongst delinquent young people with institutions such as schools and the youth criminal justice system being increasingly influenced by the developmental approach. It is for this reason that the state has championed a decidedly more interventionist approach to juvenile crime prevention based in large part on some of the findings of the developmental and life-course schools of criminology. The attempt to tackle social exclusion by the current New Labour regime, for example, implies an interventionist approach to crime prevention designed to address the many and varied social, cultural, psychological and political triggers for anti-social and deviant behaviour among young people - especially those young people living in the most economically deprived areas of the country (Young, 1999). However, while recognising the need to follow through which such a punitive, interventionist approach to juvenile crime, we must also note the inherent limitations and contradictions with regards to developmental criminology as a means of preventing and addressing youth crime. First and foremost, we should understand that while social exclusion, economic deprivation, broken homes, poor housing, sub standard schooling and other related psychological and sociological factors are useful for mapping out the likely developmental triggers for the descent into crime, lawlessness and disorder we must also acknowledge that there are a variety of other factors which impact upon juvenile crime which exist completely beyond the parameters of these broad-based triggers for crime. When, for instance, we pause to consider the consequences of an undiagnosed depression with regards to adolescents we can begin to understand the extent to which individualistic approaches to juvenile crime implies, paradoxically, the bypassing of individual problems and individual circumstance - both of which have major impacts upon the pathway any given child will follow. In addition, there are other less tangible triggers for youth crime such as loneliness, isolation and marginalisation that presently exist beyond the scope of cognitive therapists and criminologists alike. Thus, before turning our attention towards reaching a conclusion we should underline the inherent contradictions in the developmental criminological school and the 'new penology' that this represents stands as testimony to the triumph of 'actuarial justice' with regards to young people. Applying actuarial justice to the spectre of juvenile crime implies the use of "mathematical models, akin to those in the insurance industry, which establish profiles that are used to streamline the processing of juvenile cases and offenders." (Kempf-Leonard, 2000:66) Yet young people are not mathematical models and the triggers that conspire to encourage certain sections of youth culture to engage in criminality are not digestible in terms of data and profiling. Thus, there is an in-built limitation to the developmental school of criminology and all other ideological affiliates that attempt to understand juvenile crime as a scientific fact.


We have seen how developmental criminology follows on from the positivist tradition of the nineteenth century and the early twentieth century, adopting a decidedly scientific approach to the study of crime. Viewed from this perspective crime (and juvenile crime) are interpreted as necessary by-products of the inequalities of post-modern, post-industrial capitalistic societies. Within this, the developmental criminology has helped to uncover a deep-rooted link between young people and crime with a discernible 'age-curve' emerging that helps to chart and 'map out' patterns of youth crime. Psychological, sociological, economic, cultural and political factors are all interpreted as acting as triggers for young peoples' descent into crime, lawlessness and delinquency. However, we have also noted the way in which the triggers for these broad-based triggers serve to mask the individualistic element inherent in any study relating to juvenile crime. Championing such a methodological approach to crime prevention bypasses the human element to juvenile crime, failing to take into account the ad hoc triggers that exist outside of the parameters of developmental theories, each of which can be seen to act as a trigger for a descent into juvenile crime. Ultimately, while juvenile crime can be explained as an inevitable part of the transition from adolescence to adulthood in contemporary society, it cannot be treated by reference solely to data. Juvenile crime is an inherently subjective phenomenon that cannot be understood solely by reference to theories relating to age and development. In this way, we should understand the developmental criminology as representing one solution to a multi-faceted problem endemic in twenty first century western society.