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Risk factors which are used by developmental criminology, are those characteristics such as a large family, experience of abuse and having criminal parents whereby longitudinal and quantitative research shows that will present negative outcomes such as future offending and the more likelihood of offending. There has been research into youth offending which shows that there is a range of identifiable risk factors which are present in the lives of many children and young people. There are a number of risk factors which is said to increase the youths likelihood of being involved with criminal or anti-social behaviour, Family, individual, environmental. These risk factors have many agencies within them. The basic idea of risk-based prevention is simple. It is to identify the key risk factors for offending and implementing prevention methods planned to counteract them. Through effective sharing of information it provides the prospect for the early identification of those children and young people most at risk.
In this essay risk factors and risk based prevention approaches will be outlined and critically assessed as approaches to young offending, firstly in the essay explaining and analysing risk factor approaches to youth offending by looking at the main foundation of risk factors and risk management by looking at the ideas of the approaches. Then Reliability of risk factors as a way to tackle delinquency to reduce prevention of reoffending will be looked at. The essay will also analyse techniques for risk based prevention methods and understanding the reasoning behind it. Lastly the essay will assess the effectiveness and efficiency to see if risk based prevention approaches have made a difference to youth offending.
It is often wondered as to what triggers the youth to offend at such an early age. There are risk factors that are said to be predictors of delinquency. Risk factors come from the principles of Developmental Criminology. This criminology ideology is concerned with three key issues that are the developing of offending and antisocial behaviour, risk factors that focus on different ages, and the effects of events that have happened in life on the course of development. Developmental criminology thus tries to attempt to identify non-criminal behaviour which leads to criminal behaviour and to avoid them from happening at an early age with risk based prevention techniques. Offending is often part of a big syndrome of antisocial behaviour that arises in childhood and tends to continue into adulthood (West and Farrington, 1977).
Risk factors and risk management had become important and had been highlighted in the 1980's. The public of the US wanted more accountability and rationality in the policies of the justice system. So that is when a new system of 'actuarialism' had emerged. Jonathan Simon was first to notice actuarial assessments. The old society which was based around punishment of an individual in order to correct society was then challenged by a new risk society whereby its target was to find the risky population by using scientific calculations. These populations were controlled with minimum welfare support because they were targeted (Source: Muncie Pg.22)
Risk analysing has become very common since the 1990's as interest in preventing crime research has grown rapidly. The approach which suggested that offending is part of the continuum of anti social behaviour which starts at childhood then persists to adulthood and which is then reproduced in generations is the 'criminal career' approach. A project was investigated on why delinquency begins and to see if criminality can be predicted. The project was an ongoing Cambridge study in delinquent development. A group of working-class boys that were aged 8 were selected, twelve from ethnic minorities. They were contacted again at different ages in their life from 10 up until 48 to see which of those boys had developed a delinquent life and why some continued the life of crime when they came to adulthood. It was found that a fifth of the participants that had been selected had in fact committed an offence and had been convicted as a juvenile. Some of them had shared characteristics which were similar, for example they were troublesome, impulsive etc. and had a tendency to come from families that were poor or large and that had parents who had been convicted. Farrington maintained that longitude research and recognized that the risk prevention paradigm had global implication and strong practical application. (Source: Muncie 2009 Pg.26)
Based on all this information Farrington had identified family, individual and environmental predictors to future criminal behaviour. Among the family factors that are most important are criminal or antisocial parents, Criminal offences may run in the family and is shown that a high percentage of youth offenders had convicted members within the family. This may be due to the youth seeing that criminality is in the norm and therefore feel it is ok to offend. Children that come from criminal families often have an anti authority attitude and so therefore believe that offending is acceptable. Also large family size is an important family factor to delinquency, it was researched in the Cambridge study that if a boy had four or more siblings by the time he was 10 he doubled the risk of being a juvenile. There are many reasons why having a large family may make a youth turn to criminality. Parental attention decreases when the number of children increase in the family, therefore making the household more overcrowded which can then lead to conflict and frustration. There are many different types of child rearing methods which may lead to delinquency. There have been studies to show that parents that don't know what their children get up to i.e. not knowing where they are when they are out, and parents that allow their children to be out roaming the streets whilst unsupervised at an early age, tend to end up having delinquent children. Important individual factors were low intelligence, Having low intelligence and bad performance in school is a predictable reason for offending. There is a link between low intelligence and crime and it is associated with a poor ability to manipulate concepts to understand the feelings of victims. Empathy and impulsiveness are key factors which are personality traits that predict whether youth will become delinquent. Farrington took particular attention to this as he recognized them to be significant emotions in delinquency. Someone who lacks in empathy won't care about other people's feelings and will have selfish attitudes, also like those who are more impulsive won't think about what their actions may have caused in the future. The important factors within environmental factors are peer pressure, Delinquents usually have delinquent friends therefore sometimes may be a result of peer pressure. As a youth they could be easily manipulated and convinced into participating in anti social behaviour, Drinking, smoking, drug abuse etc. There are many more risk factors however these factors just mentioned are most common and they are easily identified. (Source: Farrington 2007)
There is sometimes a misunderstanding of risk factors as they may be seen as scientific facts and the real cause of crimes, However they should not be mistaken as they are merely a prediction of what may make youths offend in the future. However it does give an insight as to what areas need to be looked at in order to reduce crimes. The idea of risk factor approaches is that it generalises those individuals who are considered to fall into the 'risky category' and those who are more likely to become offenders in the future. Risk factors surely can't be easily generalised, as the UK is a diverse nation, and it cannot be assumed that everyone lives in a similar community with the same customs. Risk factors fail to explain the variables of culture and context fully. What if there were different circumstances for example a child from a large wealthy family does this make the youth at risk of future delinquency? However this contradicts with the fact that children from poor families tend to turn to delinquency. So are risk factors a reliable tool to tackle delinquency and reduce crime? it can be seen as a reliable tool however risk factors after all are just risks, so technically it doesn't mean its a certain reason as to why crime happens, it does on the other hand show which areas need to be focussed on and what needs to be done in order to help prevent future crimes.
The idea of risk-based prevention is to identify the main risk factors for offending and to implement prevention methods planned to work against them. Risk-focussed prevention first came from medicine which was later imported into criminology from medicine and public health by Hawkins and Catalano (1992). There are many methods of crime prevention through early intervention. Visits from health professionals to give advice on things such as infant development, nutrition, alcohol and drugs so this reduces child abuse from parents. Intellectual enrichment programmes in nurseries which will stimulate reasoning and thinking skills for young children, parenting education programmes, cognitive and social skills training to teach children the consequences of their actions in terms of behaviour, there are many other risk based prevention methods but these are the common approaches used to help prevent and reduce crimes.
It is easy to point out the risk factors and predicting the root causes of a youth being delinquent so therefore preventing youth crime can be done, however it is not easily done and may not be the case. There are many of the factors which are interconnected and there are problems with trying to spot which variables are independent and which variables are dependant. It is a crucial point when analysing risk factor evidence, because distorted results may produce false conclusions and focussing on risk factors which may not be necessarily needed. A huge problem of risk-focussed prevention is to figure out which risk factors are causes and which are simply markers or correlated with causes (Farrington, 2000). A key problem with the risk factor prevention paradigm that its presentation of specified individualised risks as though they compromise uncontroversial facts, truths and scientific realities. The research within risk factors shows some correlations with statistical records of offending and so therefore shouldn't be confused with having discovered the causes of such offending. Risks may be pointed out and may try and be prevented however some youths may be punished for crimes they may have never committed and there is a chance that they may end up offending in the end due to interventions and as a retaliation, so therefore risk prevention management end up becoming a risk itself.
So are risk based prevention approaches efficient and effective and have they made a difference to youth offending? The youth crime action plan is a comprehensive, analysis made by the government as to what they are going to do to tackle youth crime (Source: Homeoffice.gov.uk). The government are aware of the risks and have been trying to prevent them. i.e. the risk based prevention methods mentioned earlier. However there is a problem with this. Individuals and families are being targeted purely on the basis that they are risky candidates and therefore being punished for crimes which they have not even committed. Risks are just predictions and probabilities and chances of something which could happen or likely to happen. It's not certain that these risks could become reality. This therefore may seem unfair to those who may fall into the 'risky category' however have no means or intention to commit a crime. Even though there is a chance in being able to prevent youth crime through prevention methods there is also a high chance of innocent people being labelled. So the question is whether risk based prevention approaches are fair? A large family in a deprived area may find it patronising for a health professional to come to their home to tell them about how to look after their children, and also may seem unfair because they are being targeted purely because they fall into a risk category, whereas a large family that live in a less deprived may not need such risk prevention methods directed at them. So would it not be fairer and more equal if everyone had the same help and support, because people who don't fall into the risk category may also offend in the future.
On the other hand there are good signs of progress made by the government due to their intervention which is making a huge difference to youth crime. It is said that between 2000 and 2007 young offenders who have been reoffending within 12 months fell by 2.7%. the number of youths going into the criminal justice system has made improvements by reducing by 9% from 2006/07 to 2007/8. There has been a decrease in youths using drugs and alcohol (Source: Youth Action Plan 2007) So their 'youth action plan' methods are efficient and effective as there is evidence of improvement however there will always be the minority which prevention methods will not work on.
To conclude Risk factors and risk based prevention are important approaches to youth offending as it is important to try and tackle where the root of the problem is coming from and then ways to prevent youth crime from happening. However it is increasingly difficult to predict the patterns of a youth's behaviour. Risk factors should not be seen as the causes of the crime, they should be seen as factors which contribute to the problem of crime in the majority circumstance. Risk factors and risk management can work for some people but may not work for others. it seems like people are picked out at random even if they may not even be the problem. There are clearly many problems with risk based prevention approaches which were mentioned in the essay, main one being whether the approaches are fair and whether it is fair for risk factors to target certain people even if they have no intention to commit crime, however it is important to try and deal with crime and trying to prevent it to keep the level of crime low even if the minority may be unfairly accused. The youth action plan on the other hand shows statistics of improvements made by the government's interventions which shows that risk based prevention approaches are worthwhile.
Perhaps giving everyone the same support would be a better approach regardless of whether they are in the risky category because someone who may be out of the categories within the main risk factors may still go on to offend, and it is hard to predict who is at risk of offending as the UK is ever changing and there are far too many factors to consider.