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TRENDS IN JUVENILE CRIME OVER THE PERIOD 2004-2014
Figures for detected youth crime show a clear pattern of decline. During 2014, 29,800 children received a substantive disposal for an indictable offense compared with 112,900 in 2004, representing a reduction of almost 74 % (Bateman
Figure 14.1. Detected youth offending (indictable offenses): 1992-2014 (thousands) (Bateman 2015a).
2015a). There are well-known difficulties of inferring the extent of youth crime from official data for detected offending (see, for instance, Bateman 2015b). Nonetheless, the persistence of the fall, and the consistent evidence derived from police recorded crime, national victimization surveys, and self-report studies, all suggest that the trend demonstrated in the figures represents a genuine reduction (Bateman 2015a).
As indicated in Fig. 14.1, the decline in youth crime started much earlier but has not been uniform over the whole period. The 1990s were characterized by a gradual reduction, but the subsequent decade saw a sharp rise between 2003 and 2007 with the number of substantive youth justice disposals imposed in the latter year 20 % higher than 4 years earlier. Conversely, the period since 2008 has witnessed a further drop in youth crime but significantly sharper than that experienced during the 1990s: detected youth offending has fallen by more than three-quarters in just 7 years. Rather than representing abrupt fluctuations in children’s criminal activity, these anomalies are best understood as reflecting accommodations by criminal justice agencies to successive government performance indicators.
In 2002, consistent with punitive and interventionist ethos then prevailing, the government introduced a target to increase the number of criminal justice sanctions imposed by a quarter of a million by 2008. The target was met a year early and there is a consensus that it was achieved largely by the police criminalizing minor incidents that would previously have attracted an informal response (Flanagan 2008). Although not explicitly focused on children, this process impacted disproportionately on young people who would previously have been more likely to benefit from police discretion to deal with less serious offending without recourse to a criminal sanction. The scope for altered practice was therefore considerably greater with respect to children. This logic is reflected in the data:
Table 14.1. First time entrants to the youth justice system: 2003/04-2013/14
between 2003 and 2007, the number of adults entering the criminal justice system rose by less than 1%; the equivalent figure for children was 22 % (Bateman 2015a).
By 2008, the negative implications of the target were becoming clear (Flanagan 2008). It was abandoned and replaced by an indicator which embodied an opposite dynamic. YCAP committed the government to achieving a reduction in the number of children entering the youth justice system for the first time—so called first time entrants (FTEs)—by 20 % by 2020 (HM Government 2008). Although not acknowledged in the document that this represented a policy reversal, the measure encouraged the adoption of informal measures where a child with no antecedent history was apprehended. Like its predecessor, it was met early (Bateman 2015a). As presented in Table 14.1, the number of FTEs rose in accordance with the net-widening impetus of the previous target before declining sharply from 2007/08 onward (Ministry of Justice/Youth Justice Board 2015).
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