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Youth crime needs understanding before punishment

Youth crime needs understanding before punishment

Monday 24 May 2021

Youth crime needs understanding before punishment

Monday 24 May 2021

Recent CCTV footage of what appeared to be youths burgling a St. Brelade café has been reported as causing significant distress and shock to many islanders.

To witness a building being broken into and vandalised was alarming enough; but to know it may have been youths who did it was all the more concerning, which was only exacerbated upon hearing they left the building having taken with them knives from the kitchen.

The sad truth is that youth crime is here to stay, at least in the relative short-term. But, longer term, is it possible to identify what causes this sort of offending among children? And, is it thereby possible to eradicate it?

A quick search on the internet at data published in the UK shows that UK youth crime is increasing even if the statistics may suggest otherwise: organisations say the way in which government record and report youth crime has changed, and when data shows a decrease in offending the reduction is illusory.  

However, it is clear in my opinion that offending in Jersey is massively different from the UK.  And, it’s not surprising.  One organization points to the following risk factors for promoting criminal activity by youths: 

  • low income and poor housing;
  • living in deteriorated inner city areas; 
  • a high degree of impulsiveness and hyperactivity; 
  • low intelligence and low school attainment; 
  • poor parental supervision and harsh and erratic discipline; 
  • parental conflict and broken families.

Those risk factors are not widespread in our island.  While house ownerships is a major problem for low income families in Jersey, by and large, our government strives to find good quality accommodation for families in the rental sector.  

Our schools are of good quality and we simply don’t have deteriorated inner city areas. It is not surprising therefore that our rates of offending, and the types of crime, amongst youths differ markedly from the UK.  

My views on how to tackle crime in our young population veers well away from stricter punishment, because I simply don’t believe it works. I remember once listening to a talk involving a group of men who all had histories of armed robbery, and other violent crime.  

All of them stated that the risk of a lengthier sentence would not deter them from committing crime: as they stated, when they go out to offend, they don’t believe they are going to get caught, and therefore the penalty is neither here nor there.  

Not one of them believed that the risk of an extra five years behind bars would stop them carrying out their planned criminal enterprise.  

By far the greatest way to stop crime is to persuade the person not to do it, by causing a person to change their mind so that they don’t want to do it.   

Most offending I consider is broken down into three categories:

(a) mental illness/addiction

(b) mindlessness

(c) desire

Addictions to alcohol, sex, gambling and drugs needs special treatment. The other two categories can be resolved by instilling empathy. I am not suggesting it is easy. In fact, I think it can be incredibly hard.  

But, by causing a person to understand the effects of crime, and for them to understand its impact on people can definitely go a long way to changing a person’s thought process. Some old sayings have truth to them in certain circumstances, and ‘the devil finds work for idle hands’ is one such saying.  


Pictured: "Some old sayings have truth to them in certain circumstances, and ‘the devil finds work for idle hands’ is one such saying."

Kicking around in groups with nothing to occupy their minds is a risk factor for youths and encourages mindless crime. This is the reactor for vandalism, violence and ‘yobbish’ offending as pent up, bored and frustrated individuals seek entertainment, or simply something to do.   

I don’t consider there will ever be an eradication of youth crime, but I do know our island has some of the best tools and facilities to reduce the offending. Our education, probation and youth departments do exceptionally well at helping our young population, and work incredibly hard at helping youths steer onto the straight and narrow.  

Those organisations are key and need to be fully utilised. By contrast, our courts should be places of last resort. They should be a conduit for ensuring offenders are sent to the right support groups, rather than a place of punishment, because it will be the exception, rather than the norm, that lecturing and punishment will cause an offender to change his or her behaviour. 

This column first appeared in Connect Magazine, which you can read in full HERE.

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