At of opportunity for young people to grow up

At current, youth is bringing many challenges to the
criminal justice system. The media’s representation of youth has created a
moral panic in society, by displaying a troubled and dangerous generation
(Cohen, 1987). Newspapers are displaying headlines such as “Police launch youth
crime crackdown” (Malik, 2018:1), suggesting youth is in crisis. This issue has
not just affected headlines but has also created a change in policy. This paper
aims to discuss youth as a current issue and look at the history of youth
policy to see how it has had an effect on the current system. It will then
debate how the current youth secure estate is being managed and if it is
effective within the system. Finally, it will argue whether the police are
capable of being able to manage today’s youth.

With many debates as to how to handle young people within
the criminal justice system, it is clear that youth is a contemporary issue. Young
people’s recidivism rates have had some reduction, meaning perhaps the youth
crisis is a just a “moral panic” (Cohen, 1987). However, the levels are still
high. 67% of children who served custodial sentences and were released in 2014
reoffended within the following 12 months (Ministry of Justice, 2016).  This may be due to modern day cultures, and
new technological challenges we face in today’s modern society. Crime is
predominant in disadvantaged neighbourhoods, with people in these areas having
similar characteristics such as being from the same class, race and young age
group. This means that young people are not just offenders but also victims
(Pitts & Hope, 1997).  These close
communities are prone to be ruled by gangs, and have been reported in the media
for use of violence and fire arms (Pitts, 2008). The deprived neighbourhoods
can get stuck in a life of crime due to the embedded culture of the community
and lack of opportunity for young people to grow up and achieve their goals
(Pitts, 2015).

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The current youth population is under scrutiny, as the Crime
Survey of England and Wales has reported a 25% increase in cyber-crimes such as
fraud (ONS, 2014). This is due to the rapid increase in technological knowledge
which has resulted in many new devices such as android phones. As new
technology such as smart phones and tablets are marketed to the younger generation,
this can mean that youth cannot just be the offenders committing cyber-crimes,
but also be targeted as victims. This complex new technology has brought security
issues such as viruses intruding on individuals personal data, allowing crimes
such as fraud to become simple to achieve. A further issue that technology has
created is the increase in sexual crimes, in particular the new sexual offence
of ‘sexting’. This is sending and receiving sexually provocative indecent
images over the internet or through text messages. In the year 2012 to 2013
there was over 14,000 police recorded charges for the creation of indecent sexual
images. This number is thought to be much less than the real number of sexual
images being created (Pitts, 2015). By looking at these current issues, we can
see the challenges of youth the criminal justice system has to face.

There has been a prolonged debate about how to deal with
children in the criminal justice system. The 1969 Children and Young Persons
Act emphasised a policy of ‘intermediate treatment’ (Goldson, 1997:77).  This targeted child offenders or those with
potential to offend, as it was found that even though youths were offending it
was also youths that were the victims. Unfortunately, the method of early
intervention with children who were at risk of becoming offenders was
ineffective, as assuming that those with certain characteristics will offend is
an unevidenced conclusion. As the 1970’s-80’s approached, the policy aimed at
welfare of young people swayed to justice due to change to conservative
politics and new research (Goldson, 1997). This change occurred as the
government worried about the welfare approach being too lenient on children and
that social workers rewarded delinquency instead of punishing it (House of
Commons, 1975). In the late 80’s, youth justice was directed away from being either
welfare or justice. The managerialism approach suggested that neither methods
were effective in dealing with delinquent youths and believed that simply
managing young offenders in order to protect society would be the most cost-
effective way to deal with the youth crisis (Malcolm, 1992).  However, by the late 90’s, this system was
found to be uneconomic and ineffective (Renshaw, 1998).

At current, all types of crime that are being recorded by
the police is falling (ONS, 2014). This includes a decline in youth justice,
this could mean a decline in youth crime. However, we suggest it is due to a
change in policy and how youth cases are formally dealt with through the
criminal justice system.  By the beginning
of 2016, it was found that 48% of cases dealt with by the police were closed due
to limited evidence (Bateman, 2017), meaning crime rates may be higher than
recorded. Most recently, the Charlie Taylor review outlined policies that will
need to be changed in order to create a more effective youth justice system. He
stated that children should not be treated in the same way as adults as they do
not have the emotional maturity to act and communicate as adults. He also
suggested that education is the route to reduce reoffending, as well as
changing youth offending institutions into secure schools that not only punish
a child, but give them the opportunity to succeed in the outside world once
their sentence is complete (Taylor, 2016).

Within the Criminal Justice System, we can see issues in the
secure estate that are in debate. One issue is the fact that youth offender
institutions do not prevent young people from reoffending. This can be
explained through the case of James Bulger. James Bulger was a two year old boy
who was abducted by two ten year old boys, Jon Venables and Robert Thomson,
whilst with his mother at a shopping centre in Merseyside. The young boys
walked with James for two miles before attacking him with bricks, stones and
metal. The two year old boy died from severe injuries to the head. Thomson and Venables
then placed James’s body on a railway line in Liverpool before the body was hit
by a train (Sharrat, 1993). Jon Venables and Robert Thomson were both convicted
of murder in Merseyside in the year 1993 and placed in secure centres (BBC,
2013). Venables was released from prison in 2001 but brought back in 2010 after
probation found child pornography images. After being released again, he has
recently been once again brought back for possessing indecent images on his
home computer in November 2017. This high profile case shows that young
offenders being punished by being placed into secure estates can lead to
continued criminal activity in adulthood and does not reduce rates of
recidivism. (Khomami, 2017).

From looking at youth as a contemporary issue, we know that
the majority of young people placed within the secure estate reoffend within 12
months (Ministry of Justice, 2016). In May 2016 the number of children incarcerated
in the secure estate was 870. This had dramatically fallen by 70% when the
number was 3,006 in May 2008 (Youth Justice Board, 2016). This has led to the
closure of many young offenders’ institutions, secure children’s homes as well
as secure training centres. Secure children’s homes are for those who are
particularly vulnerable and have been reported to have good levels of education
and training for children. 65% of those within secure children’s homes also
believe that they are in the best place considering they are legally obliged to
be in custody. However, of those incarcerated that are below the age of 18, 73%
are placed in young offender institutions compared to one in ten that are incarcerated
in secure children’s homes. These institutions are much similar to an adult
prison due to the high populations and the primary function to punish
offenders, young offender institutions have been criticised due to the lack of
welfare based rehabilitation that children need (Bateman, 2016).

A further argument for young offender’s institutions being
ineffective within the youth criminal justice system, is that they have a
negative impact upon children’s health and wellbeing. It is reported at the
beginning of 2012, that 33% of young boys said they had an issue with problem drug
use when they were admitted to custody. By this time the percentage had raised
to 36%. It is also clear to see that there is a high prevalence of mental
health and emotional issues in youth offending institutions as boys who
admitted to struggling with mental health problems on admission to custody had
also increased from 21% to 24% over the two years. There is also a high rate of
self-harm that is increasing, with 5 out of 100 children per month self-harming
in 2010 which increased to nearly 8 out of 100 in 2015. These increasing rates
of mental health issues suggest that the adult-like conditions of young offender
institutions are not appropriate for children. We suggest that staff within
secure estates should be trained on how to deal with children’s mental health
issues so that the justice system can be more effective in reducing reoffending
(Bateman, 2016). This could be achieved by the idea of a multi-agency system
which is stated in the Charlie Taylor report so that health services can assist
in supporting the vulnerable with mental health issues (Taylor, 2016).  

In a study in the north of England, it was found that 77% of
young people in young offender institutions were identified as having an
alcohol use disorder. This is an issue as it is known that excessive drinking
can lead to an increase in disorderly and criminal behaviour. The alcohol problem
within youth offender institutions is a contributing factor to thousands of
violent offences each year and is costing the criminal justice system millions
of pounds (Newbury-Birch et al., 2015). With such high rates, the aim of youth
offender institutions as being rehabilitative establishments is ineffective as
problem drinking is much more likely to increase the risk of young people
reoffending. As there is such a large prevalence of drinking disorders within
the secure estate, it is clear that the current system has not got the knowledge
or resources to deal with alcohol treatments that should be available and specifically
focused towards children.

As we have discussed, young offender institutions have a
similar environment to adult prisons, this means that violence within young
offenders institutions is on a similar level to adult prisons. In one study it
was found that 73.52% of offenders in secure estates had felt victimized by
other inmates within the previous three months when data was recorded. It is
also interesting to compare that secure training centres which are units where more
vulnerable children are placed, 24% said they had felt unsafe at one point
whilst being incarcerated. Whereas, the rate was 33% for those in young
offender institutes, suggesting secure training centres may have lower violence
rates (Haufle & Wotler, 2015). Aggression, violence and victimisation can
be used by new inmates in order to assert power as it is a part of prison
culture. Conflict is usually resolved through violence rather than
communicating issues like individuals generally would outside of the secure
estate (Haufle & Wotler, 2015).  From
discussing the secure estate, we can see that there is a difference between
different types of institutions and that there are issues within the estate
that could be increasing the chance of offending. These arguments suggest that
the current downward trend in youth secure estate numbers in beneficial.

Another aspect that can affect the issue of youth in the
criminal justice system is policing. This is one of the most important parts
within the justice system as the police determine which individuals will go
through the formal justice system and who will not (Bateman, 2017). Recently,
there has been a sharp decline in the number of children being arrested for
offences in the UK. The number has dropped from 351,644 to 88, 517 by the
beginning of 2016 (Ministry of Justice, 2015) which could suggest a fall in
youth criminal activity. However, it is most likely that the change in policy
over recent years has affected the way in which the police respond to children.
The fall in arrests can be explained through the new policing method of ‘community
resolution’ which is a way in which police officers can deal with low-level
crime on the street. It is usually used with first time offenders and has
reported to have reduced the levels of children who go through formal processes
(Bateman, 2017).  This is a positive for
the justice system as we have already discussed that secure estates are generally

A further method that is used in policing is stop and search,
this intrusive method of the police gathering evidence is known to have
traumatic effects on some children (Bateman, 2017), yet the justice system
still continues to use it. However, in recent years the number of stop and
searches has declined, from 1,177,327 at the beginning of 2010 dropping to
386,474 at the same time in 2016 (Home Office, 2016). This decline is in
response to criticism that ethnic minority young males are targeted more than
white young males due to unfair stereotyping. Although this decline is a
positive, it is still argued that stop and searches on young people are
conducted unnecessarily due to the effects that they can have upon children.
(Bateman, 2017).

From looking at youth in the justice system, we can see that
the topic brings challenges, including the current technological boom and how
that has effected crime (Pitts, 2015). In spite of this, recidivism rates have
decreased suggesting that the problem has been overrepresented in the media
causing a moral panic (Cohen, 1987). There has been a debate throughout history
with different approaches to policy which has led to current policy suggesting
that the youth cannot be treated in the same way as adults (Taylor, 2016). By discussing
the secure estate in depth, we can conclude that youth offender institutions
are ineffective in preventing reoffending and increase the likelihood of issues
such as mental health problems, alcoholism and violence. (Bateman 2016; Newbury-Birch
et al. 2015; Haufle & Wotler, 2015). From comparing them to secure children’s
homes we can see that smaller and more welfare based secure estates are more
effective. The drop in the number of arrests on children and increase in
community resolutions has been argued to be effective (Bateman, 2017). However,
although the number of stop and searches have decreased, it is still used in
policing methods which can cause traumatic experiences for children (Bateman,
2017). Overall, the criminal justice system is still in debate as to how youth
should be treated. The Charlie Taylor review has influenced the recent drop in
arrests and children in secure units (Taylor, 2016) but those still within the
secure estate and those who are being policed are not being given the support
to stay out of the criminal justice system.