Child first youth justice?
The National Association for Youth Justice has today (23 September 2020) published its latest overview of trends and developments. Authored by Dr Tim Bateman, the report is an important read for everyone involved in youth justice. I heartily recommend reading, or at least browsing, its 152 pages. In this blog post, I have merely picked out some of the (to me) most interesting trends.
Youth crime continues to fall
In 2018 16,901 children received a substantive disposal (caution or conviction) for an indictable offence compared with 143,600 in 1992, a reduction of 88%. Adolescence is a period of enhanced risk taking, as children assert their individuality, move towards independence and the influence of peers gradually supplants that of parents. This characteristic explains the relatively high level of lawbreaking during the
teenage years, as children naturally engage in experimentation and test boundaries. As a consequence, children are more likely to commit offences than their adult counterparts; nonetheless, because the former constitute a minority of the overall population, adults are responsible for a much greater volume of overall crime. During 2018, children committed just 2% offences (summary and indictable), a proportion that has fallen from 11% in 2008.
The offences young people commit are changing
The indictable offences for which young people are brought into contact with the criminal justice system have changed markedly over just the last two years as the graphic below shows. The reasons, as always, are complex and reflect political and policing emphasis as well as the actual prevalence of different sorts of offences.
Race and criminalisation
BAME children, viewed as a single group, are over-represented in the youth justice system: while 18% of the 10-17 population come from a minority ethnic background 27% of children cautioned or convicted in 2019 were of BAME origin. Moreover, this latter figure represents almost twice the proportion of 14% in 2010. It is important to register, however, that the picture varies by ethnic background. As shown in the graphic below, relative to the composition of the wider 10-17 population, Asian children have been consistently under-represented among those receiving a substantive youth justice disposal. By contrast 2.8 times as many Black children come to the attention of the youth justice system as would be expected given the composition of the general population within the relevant age range; moreover the extent of over-representation for this group has risen substantially since 2010. The representation of mixed heritage children in the youth justice population was consistent with the composition of the general community in 2010, but in the intervening years has doubled.
Changes in community sentences
The intensity of Youth Rehabilitation Orders is increasing. In the year ending, 2019, 15% of such orders had five or more requirements attached, representing a considerable rise over the period since the YRO was introduced. As shown below, in 2011 (the first year for which data are available), just 2% of orders contained five or more requirements. There has been a corresponding decline in the proportion of orders with a single requirement, from 36% to 16%. While this pattern might reflect the use of more intensive community sentencing as an alternative to imprisonment, it also signals community disposals becoming considerably more intrusive. Certainly the data would appear to show that principles of minimum intervention have not been a priority during this period.
The number of children remanded in custody is on the rise
The average population of children started to fall in 2008 although it has tended to decline at a slower rate than custodial sentences. There has been a further worrying growth, of around one third, in the number of children remanded to the secure estate over the past two years. As a consequence the proportion of all children in the secure estate subject to remand has risen over that period from 21% to 28%.
Thanks to Devin Avery for use of the header image, which was originally published on Unsplashed.com.