Crime amongst young people has been centre of the attention of society and policy makers in last two decades. There is notable increase and frequency of repetition in cases against the young people creating tension in the society. This has changed the perception of society and government towards the young. A study is carried out to explain how the social perceptions of young offenders have changed over the time. An attempt is also made to describe the social construction of youth and reason for change occur in recent years. The purpose is to explain the reasons for the increase and repetitive nature of crimes amongst the youth and what steps are taken by the government and societies to deal with this issue.
Change in development of youth
In general, the social perception towards young is seen as problematic. The young generation and their process of maturing from child to adulthood is loaded with negative images. It is not uncommon in many societies that people consider teenage either a sources of trouble or into trouble at some or the other point of time (Evans and et. al., 2001).
Many trends altering the development of youth came into light during the beginning of 1990's. Followed by the success of these trends, they continue in the represent time. The most remarkable change is seen in the education system. The focus of government and liberalization in many economies around the world during the decade of 1990 have contributed in the increase of employment opportunities (Goldson, 2002). The change in education system actually increases the time duration the youth requires to complete the studies and is eligible for employment. So young people who seemed to be looking for employment or starting their business at the age of 16 to 19 before the change continued their studies till the age of 22 -24. This dramatic expansion in higher studies indicates delay in independency benefits (Henderson, Taylor and Thomson, 2003). In addition to this, many families depend ton loan facilities to aid higher education. Thus longer time involved in completion of studies and economic dependency on families is consistent situation in developed and developing economies.
With the pace of liberalization and globalization, there are substantial proportion of students engaged in full and part time employment. The change in the education system and development of lifelong learning is also associated with ethical practices. The concept of ethics can be referred to as trying hard hard to achieve desired career path or objectives (Schoon and et. al., 2001). Inability and faced by the continuous failure develop a tendency to blame individual fault. Studies have shown that it is not necessary that only personal fault is the reason for failure. There could be wider economic and social work conditions that restrict the path towards achievement. Studies also show that there is a change in the expectation of the young people and employers. While employers consider young people as employable when they are equipped with knowledge, qualification and skills to perform the job in less training time (Lesko and Talburt, 2012). The young generation also demands jobs that suits their ability and knowledge with handful of compensation and other benefits. This has actually reduced the opportunities available to young than they were 25 years ago.
Different classes of society
The change and accessibility to education system has benefited middle class to a great extent which were earlier deprived from it. Evidence from the developing nations like India and China can be considered useful where lower sections of the society are considered untouched and deprived from basic rights (Bateman, 2006). Developing nations are US and UK have been more diverse, polarised and less meritocratic economies than they were three decades ago. But in many regions of high growth oriented economies are still faced with discrimination issues and lack of access to resources on equal basis. In developed economies, white, middle class and non disabled find it relatively easy to achieves desired career pathway through basic and higher education and hard work (Haines and Case, 2007). Similarly in developing economies, the middle class group are able to secure high paying jobs through professional education. But there is also a group of less privileged people and group who still find it difficult to find a path that enable them to remove dependency barriers.
This dependency on families and parents and seeing other counterparts accessing higher education and employment opportunities contribute to development of frustration. Researchers have described this situation as uneven and fragmented transitions. The concept of uneven is referred to as experience of young people during the transition from childhood to adulthood (Lewis, 2005). The fragmentation is referred to the different areas of adulthood which are disconnected with each other. This can be understood as when young people have to wait for longer time to be economically independent and take on the responsibilities of their direct families. So evidence suggest that areas such as sexual activity and drug intake are practised at young ages. The frustration and delay in independence benefits influence them to practice these means to relieve their tension (Margo and et. al., 2006). The perception behind consumption of drug and alcohol is considered as a source of relieving tension. In addition to this, young generation left their home towns to pursue higher education and involve in close intimate relationships. Even the people who started earning at the very small age to spend their money on leisure and enjoying social life.
Trends in youth crime
With the changing trends in education and employment, the measurement criteria of crime has also been changed. The information sources are widened with the inclusion of more information from different areas - official statistics about crime, self report offending surveys and self report survey completed by the victims (Mooney and Young, 2006). The availability of data is actually not an issue but the interpretation and defining measure to deal with those is a problem. Research suggest five distinct areas of inter related issues which makes sense.
The explanation of offence varies over the time. Till 1998, it was assumed that children below the age of 14 years are incapable of understanding the difference between right and wrong to justify the criminal acts, unless a strong evidence a present. This assumption was removed with the establishment of Crime and Disorder Act 1998 which states that children between the age group of 10 to 13 years who were previously not entitled to any formal disposal are exposed to hardship of criminal law (Muncie, 2001). In addition to this, the antisocial behaviours which were previously include in the category of irritation and nuisance can now included in the area of criminal law.
There is partial recording of crime at the police stations. Evidence from research studies show that fifty percent of crime are never reported. The reason could be many ranging from as consider not serious, no assumed loss, involvement of high class people (Nayak, 2003). Studies in one of the developing nations suggest that due to perceived loss of family reputation is the major reason that cases are not reported to police. Moreover, the proportion of crime reports recorded at the police stations does not reflect the true incident and extent of the crime.
The criteria for measurement of crime also covers the impact of offending behaviour on society. Reports suggest that large number of cases have no direct victim. This include crimes such as possession of drugs, unnoticed theft at workplace, damaging old monuments and heritage buildings are some of the crimes which have no direct victim (Barrows, Julie and Huff, 2009). Thus as a result, these cases go unreported in police statistics. In many cases, the actual offender is never recognised. This can be understood as the in lack of evidence the actual offender places someone else or did not take the responsibility for the crime. This restricts proper analysis of profiles of offender and number of incidents previously committed.
There are significant changes in the legislation, policies and guidelines. The number of people involved in the process of justice can be influenced by the factors which are unrelated with the crime (Bennett, Trevor and Holloway, 2004).
Official crime statistics recorded between 1990 to 2004 shows a decline of 21% in detected youth crime. The detected youth crime referred here is offences committed by individuals below the age of 18 years. These figures represent only those cases which are reported and presented in court. Taking into account the figures of 2006-07, it was been found that there is increase of 2.5% from the levels of 2003-04 and decrease of 2.2% from 2005-06 (Shute and et. al., 2012). The rise in numbers could be associated with factors which are not related with crime such as police target to increase the number of offences to court. Evidence also show that number of offences by young individuals decline by 2% as compared with 2003-04. But there is significant increase in the number of offences by women during the time period which accounts to 25%.
Public perception of youth crime
Research suggest that people are ill informed about the levels of youth crime. A majority estimated at 75% considers that youth crime is increasing but instead figures were in declining trend. This negative perception towards the youth force people to associate small issues as very complicate (Champion, 2004). Research also indicates that if young generation live in informal groups are already indulge in some unwanted activities, they are likely to adopt those means and acts without understanding the consequences. Studies also considers availability of information as helpful in reducing the crime.
Status of young people as victims
The change in perception of society and law now consider young people offending crime as offenders or criminals instead of victims. The Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) show that there were 0.81 million crimes committed by children in the age group of 10 - 15 years ending march 2014 (Davies, 2014). Out of this, 55% of crimes were violent, while other highest number were thefts of personal property.
Perception of young people as victims
The perception of society and policy makers towards the young people is still the same as it was decades ago. The perception here is referred to as understanding level and ability of interpretation of young people. Even the families and friends do not believe if a younger child tries to explain about an incident (Doyle, 2012). There are many cases found when a court ruling held a 13 year old as sexual predator. There was cases when nine men were accused on sexual harassment and exploitation of girls but their stories were not believed. In India, children below the age of 18 years are also imprisoned if found accused for crime if presence of evidence. These individual can only be imprisoned for a maximum of 3 years (Evans and et. al., 2001). But research show that conditions and behaviour these individual experience in the prison are gruesome.
Social construction of child victims
The negative perception towards child victims have raised criticisms by the psychologists. The argument is how to denote the young people and their offences in line with the criminal cases. There offences may be consider as something that happens like that (Goldson, 2002). But continuous ignorance to the child offences will have severe consequence in the long term. Research also show that due to lack of knowledge girls are not aware of whether their partner's behaviour is caring or coercive control. Moreover, the upbringing and family culture also influence the perception level.
Situational action theory
The theory explains that indulging in crime by people depends on two aspects. The first is their personal characteristics and experiences and second is the nature of the environment they are exposed to. The contemporary criminal theories are based on the strong belief that individual and environment characteristic have great bearing on the causes of crime (Henderson, Taylor and Thomson, 2003). Situational Action Theory (SAT) is modern concept that relates the personal and environment factors which influence the criminal thoughts and actions. The theory lays its foundation over the traditional social and behavioural sciences. The arguments presented by the theory states that actions of crime are moral actions which means the acts are guided by the own rules of right and wrong (Schoon and et. al., 2001). This concept of ethics and morals are self defined by the individuals. They consider crime as justifiable action to deal with any issue. The theory also argues that the perception of individual observe crime as viable alternative and initiates to take action depends on the inclination and exposure to the particular settings. It also argues that social conditions and development of individual also plays an important role in converting a mere through into a criminal act (Lesko and Talburt, 2012). SAT defines actions guided by rules which focuses on right and wrong based on moral aspects. The theory is not limited to the discipline of crime but also focuses on the more informal actions.
The situational action theory assumes human nature and its relationship with social order. The social order sets the rules and guideline to be followed by the humans. Thus, moral action of humans is the interplay between the understanding of social and moral rules in shaping the development process (Bateman, 2006). A situational mechanism proposed by the SAT is perception choice process. the process is a link between propel and environment which guide the actions.
Juvenile Delinquency Theories
A child labelled with the tag of criminal is always expected to commit repeat offence. Here the perception of individual, family, friends and society all consider that if a child commits a crime once, there is high probability of repetitive offence. The child associate himself or herself with the criminal acts and thoughts. The family and society ignore him/her in the social interactions with the fear that he/she might cause harm (Haines and Case, 2007). The perception has developed to such an extent that in present time, the society now wonder upon on the behaviour of these childes. The understanding of Juvenile Delinquency is important as it help establish new theories which enable the understanding and development of Juvenile motives (Lewis, 2005). The theories developed under it fall into three categories which are - psychological, sociological and biological.
The biological theory examines delinquent behaviour as predisposed and relate with the aspect that children are born to be criminals. A positivism theory has been developed by Cesear Lambrosso which is based on biological discipline (Margo and et. al., 2006). The theory is based on the aspect that if an individual grows up committing crimes inherits biological and genetic factors. The author also mentions in his research that individuals belonging to criminal behaviour have certain facial expressions that have tendency of repetitive criminal actions. A flattened nose and excess teeth are basic facial features (Nayak, 2003).
There is social disorganisation theory which is based on the advancement of children. The development of children in the area of education prohibits them to gain access to further knowledge and information (Mooney and Young, 2006). Poverty and graffiti are also other factors that divert the mind behaviour of children. For example, victims of sexual harassment if not provided with proper consultancy tend to think more about it.
Social strain theory
There are various social strain theories explained by different authors from different perspectives. The theories are provide an explanation of delinquency and deviance which are grouped together with the underlying assumption that a non standardised behaviour arises as a result of social circumstances and the individuals experience confusion (Barrows, Julie and Huff, 2009).
Research based on the suicidal aspects establish the concept of anomie which features the condition of society or group being confronted with high degree of confusion and contradiction in social norms. The research focused on high suicide rates during the economic recessions, political instability, changes in society and instability in the close environment with the absence of normative regulation (Champion, 2004). Under such conditions individuals are not able to understand what is expected from them in the particular situation. some individuals feel free to take their lives instead of resolving issues.
There were times when adult gangs were considered as terrorising the society and increasingly involve din criminal acts. But in recent years youth gangs have received widespread attention from media and politics. Gang membership is refereed to the criminal acts performed in groups. the focus on gang membership is more recently amplified by the ratios in UK in 2011. The types and structure of gangs are not uniform (Davies, 2014). It may be based on the nature and objective of the individual aim to be part of the gang. The members may have similarity on the basis of age, race and ethnicity, types of activity, degree of criminal actions previous involved, basis of formation, etc.
There are also mis-perceptions developed in the society for the gangs. The gangs has been perceived as group of people who are rarely organised or structured for a common thought. The activities of the gangs are related with drugs, violence and smuggling. The researchers support on one aspect that gangs are primary group of individuals who are involved in illegal activities (Doyle, 2012). It also supports the notion that gang membership increases the probability of criminal and anti social behaviour and drug use. This situation applies when an individual joins a gang and also extends with time. Research also show that at the time of joining the gang reduces the level of fear among the young people (Goldson, 2002). It has been also analysed that joining a gang increased the likelihood of spending more time on the streets and indulging in activities that lead to delinquency. Young people joining gangs are more committed to their delinquent friends regardless of whether this leads to any trouble.
The above reports develops understanding on the way social perceptions towards youth crime has changed. The report explain the reasons and causes of crimes in young age. There is a change led by the significant alteration in the business and community environment in recent years (Schoon and et. al., 2001). It can be concluded that failure and inability to move in pace with the like people is the cause of frustration that leads to consumption of drug and alcohol. The perception of society towards the young people who are involve in criminal activity altered their perception to consider them as criminals instead of victims.
- Barrows, Julie and Huff, R., 2009. Gangs and public policy: constructing and deconstructing gang databases. Criminology and Public Policy.
- Bateman, T., 2006. Youth Crime and Justice: Statistical ‘Evidence’. Recent Trends and Responses.
- Bennett, Trevor and Holloway, K., 2004. Gang membership, drugs and crime in the UK. The British Journal of Criminology.
- Champion, D.J., 2004. The Juvenile Justice System: Delinquency, Processing, and the Law. 4th Ed. Upper Saddle River. Pearson Prentice Hall Inc.
- Goldson, B., 2002. New Labour, social justice and children: Political calculation and the deserving-undeserving schism. British Journal of Social Work.
- Haines, K. and Case, S., 2007. Individual differences in public opinion about youth crime and justice in Swansea. Howard Journal of Criminal Justice.