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Obtaining meaningful data about the nature and extent of young people’s offending behaviour in Scotland is not straightforward. The most recent estimates indicate that there are 835,186 young people aged 8-21 years living in Scotland, accounting for 15.6 % of Scotland’s total population of 5.35 million (National Records of Scotland 2015). Yet estimating how many offend and establishing the nature of those offences is very difficult because there are no national surveys of offending. Consequently, researchers must rely on official sources such as the routine statistics collated by the police, CHS, courts and prison service (which vary enormously in terms of their focus, structure and content).

These administrative datasets all have limitations in the extent to which they provide accurate and reliable information on the extent of crimes and offences committed by young people.

For example, police data represents the youth crimes that come to their attention, but we know from self-report studies that the majority of youth crimes do not (McAra and McVie 2005). Statistics on offence referrals to the CHS provide some indication of trends in juvenile crime, but the majority of offence referrals come from the police and so these data also underestimate actual offending levels. The recent implementation of the WSA in Scotland, described earlier, has led to a significant reduction in offence referrals to the CHS and the complex nature by which young people involved in offending are now dealt with by a variety of organisations is not yet being captured by current statistical reports (see Scottish Government 2016). Similarly, statistics on court proceedings and imprisonment rates show trends in the number of young people dealt with by the adult criminal justice system, but they are influenced by decision-making practices at earlier stages of the criminal justice process, which serve to filter out many cases before they reach the courts (which would include young people diverted away from prosecution). As such, the available statistics can only provide a partial account of the levels and trends of youth crime in Scotland.

Whilst it is generally agreed that young people are responsible for a disproportionately large amount of crime in Scotland, there is evidence of a significant decrease in offending amongst young people in Scotland in recent years, at least according to convictions data (Matthews 2014).

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