Break the cycle of neglect and reoffending

Anne Longfield
Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Media portrayals of "hoodies" and concerns that antisocial behaviour orders are seen as badges of honour have strengthened the perception that young people and crime are inextricably linked.

But the reality is that it is vulnerable young people who are more at risk of engaging in criminal activity. The likelihood of offending is clearly socially skewed towards teenagers living in deprived areas and from low-income backgrounds. Pathways into offending are created from social conditions that affect young people during difficult transitions into adulthood.

Home Office statistics show the peak age for cautioning and conviction is between 15 and 25 - demonstrating the importance of targeting anti-crime initiatives at young people. For many young people who cause trouble there are distinct social trends that mark the potential for offending, largely relating to poverty and low levels of aspiration. Feelings of isolation and underachievement can often provoke groups of young people in deprived areas to be antisocial. Interventions during this period are best placed to deter offending, while failure to tackle isolation and neglect risks embedding offending patterns.

A project run by Leeds Youth Offending Service demonstrates the effectiveness of interventions in cutting reoffending rates among young people who have already had contact with the criminal justice system. The D'Fuse Anger Management Programme is designed for young people whose problems in controlling their temper have led to violent conduct. Workers from the youth offending service help young people to manage anger, express themselves and face challenges in a way that cuts down on further offending. A 2006 study followed 88 young offenders for more than a year, finding that reoffending rates halved in those who took part in the programme.

Tapping into skills and helping young people to explore talents can strengthen formal rehabilitation. Changing Tunes is a charity that uses musical expression with young offenders to build self-esteem and develop skills in a supportive environment that nurtures their interests. Rehearsing, recording, performance and composition are used as vehicles to rehabilitate young offenders, with evidence of a 42 per cent drop in reoffending rates among participants.

Whether due to a feeling that parents do not care about them or through peer pressure, young offenders feel they have little stake in the world around them - undermining their sense of responsibility. It is only through building and supporting young people that we can stop criminal offending becoming a serious pattern into adulthood.

- Anne Longfield is chief executive of 4Children.Email anne.longfield@haymarket.com.

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