The definition of a ‘young person’ changed and this shapes our understanding of the ‘problem of youth’ today

mar 4 2020

Abstract: Youth crime and delinquent behaviour among teenagers have always been the cornerstone of contemporary civilized countries. Mostly it has been shrugged off as coming of the age. However, an issue arises when these young people get to be a part of a society; voting, driving, working. Is there a reason why violence, substance abuse and antisocial behaviour have been on the rise? Condemnation, higher standard or no-nonsense attitude. These are all factors that focus on the evolution of youth crime."
Key words: youth crime, prevention, adolescent rehabilitation, community service, restorative justice

Foto: Peter Senko (2018)Foto: Peter Senko (2018)


This essay will describe the issues of youth crime and how we faced them in the past, how are we dealing with them today and criticize both. While at the same time using examples to show the validity of proposed alternatives as well as the invalidity of those we are using today.

The first part of this essay will go into detail about causes of youth crime – nowadays, as well as in the past. With the main factor being an abusive family history – a component that is showing up in connection with youth crime today as well as it was in the past. Whether it is just close relatives or a wider circle of friends.

The second part will describe the techniques of youth crime prevention that are being applied today – and criticize them for what they are. Social and situational prevention, drug abuse prevention and the recovery of victims and damaged property.

Finally, this essay will look over the details of the restorative justice system which is a fine alternative to imprisonment when it comes to youth crime. As a loss of one’s personal freedom at such a young age can have disastrous effects on the evolution of an individual mind.

Causes of Youth Crime

Delinquent behaviour of the young population has its certain peculiarities and symbols. Unlawful behaviour is practiced primarily in a group. This pertains to the fact that youth spends time together in groups and they commit crimes together. Preparation of such felonies is not perfect however and excessive violence is often present in the devastation of public and personal property. Pecuniary injury is the prevalent form of criminal behaviour when it comes to this group of social deviants – the adolescent. (Goldson & Muncie, 2006)

Drugs and alcohol (and group mentality) play an important role in these events as they increase the aggressiveness and are the cause of unreasonable behaviour, which becomes much more driven by emotion rather than by reason. Delinquent behaviour is much more often exhibited by young males rather than females, but this has been changing particularly in the UK over the past decade. Moreover, such deviant behaviour may be a onetime occurrence during one’s youth or it may lead down the path to more crime. (Hunt, Evans, & Moloney, 2010)

The main factors behind the rise of youth crime are without question the global social climate, social functionality (or dysfunctionality) of families, the upbringing and social guidance in schools and involving the youth in side-activities to fill up their time. These causes have been explored by Adam Fletcher (founder of the Freechild Project), David J. Hanson (professor of Sociology at the University of New York), John Holt (an activist on youth re-education) and others. They all have in common two main clauses: that the causes are many and they cannot be narrowed down when it comes to individual cases and also that there is a correlation between the children and their parents – as many delinquent juveniles have parents with delinquent history. David J. Hanson also proposed that there is a biological factor at work (harking back to the ideas of Biological Positivism), this being a mild brain dysfunction – children with such a condition are displaying symptoms of impulsivity, defiance to social acclimatisation, unrest, uncontrollable behaviour and aggression. Youths belonging to this group, being emotionally distanced and apathetic can become delinquents much more easily than children that are insecure and/or are addicted to the idea of being socially or physically rewarded. (Banks, 2013)

Practically all the hypotheses that were formed in the 20th century which were explaining the criminality of youth mention the prospect of family as the most deciding factor. It is the family that ensures that a child gets basic education which lasts some time and helps in the forming of an identity of the youth as well as the development of its morals. However, if the family isn’t fulfilling its duty, it gives way to a better possibility for the existence of criminogenic behaviour. Neglected and/or abused children, children from divorced families, children born outside marriage as well as children born to young mothers all fall into this category and statistically have an increased chance of becoming involved in criminal behaviour. When it comes to a typical criminogenic family, there are many clear factors such as alcohol and drug abuse, parental criminality, excessive aggressiveness or apathy to children’s education and wellbeing. According to Synder and Patterson there is a correlation between how much does a parent know about their children’s time and activities, what kind of friends is the child spending time with, at what time does the child comes home and the increasing risk of the child becoming involved in crime. (Omaji, 2003)

However, as of late (2010-2015) – there has been a reported rise in criminality among children from socially healthy and steady families. This has been explained by a hidden pathology of families, which can be brought to light by using sociological methods and that the effect that family has on children decreases as the children get older and is instead replaced by media, institutions and a group of friends. Also, another factor to mention is the inappropriate effect of the school environment which is right behind family when it comes to affecting children – since school is the place in which the child spends the most time. Any school should always inform the parents in a timely fashion whenever any behavioural problems occur with their children. Among some there is a decrease in intelligence which ends up being wasted, kids become more self-conscious and introverted. (Goldson, Youth in Crisis?: 'Gangs', Territoriality and Violence, 2011)

There is also the ill use of free time, which has been mentioned above as well as a negative social surrounding – combating these factors by employing the child in side activities does reduce the probability of children from socially and financially stable families to commit crime.

Youth has always been very susceptible to their social microstructure in which they live, thus they are very reflective and emotionally more impressionable than adults. Young adults and children form groups much easier than adults especially when a leading charismatic authority is present. In past, this has led to moral corruption and manipulation of the youth – when their free thinking, which was barely developed was taken away. Prime examples are from World War II and various terrorist organizations, when the youth was exploited by senior authority.

Youth Crime Prevention

Youth crime can be explicitly described as the most important socio-pathological phenomena; i.e. behavioural issues that are attributed to the youth demographic of any society which is manifested in the violation of an already established precept of criminal standard. Youth crime consists of unlawful action committed by a category of adolescents, child pre-criminality and the criminality of young adults.

It is important to devote time to the proper explanation of the categories of different ages and this being accomplished from a criminological point of view with the following terms: adolescent, child, underage and finally the term youth itself as well.

The term adolescent is used on purpose mainly because it is defined as a specific age category within which people have broken the law.

Legal punishment is bestowed upon citizens for committing crimes – which is a type of behaviour that goes against the law and is potentially harmful to either the person committing the crime or others involved in the situation. Therefore, when it comes to youth, they are responsible for their actions the same way that adults are, however the sanctions for such behaviour are (and should be) different. When it comes to imprisonment, 90% of the Earth’s population is isolating the rogue element of society so that the rest can move on with their lives undisturbed. Rehabilitation is a secondary and, in many cases, an optional objective. This leads to reoffending as inmates consider prisons to be “schools for criminals” and will do anything to get out of there. Excluding Scandinavian countries and several others that consider rehabilitation and social reintegration to be their priority. Hand in hand with isolation is the punishment as retribution; such punishments are rarely a conscious decision. Unless the crime has such an impact that the perpetrator must be demonized in order to subconsciously calm the public and make an excuse for the justice system as to why a certain punishment is so steep and/or harsh. (Shaw, 2010)

A condemned person loses the ability to live a normal life after his release as the options citizens are usually presented with are severely reduced. Permanent criminal record ensures no financially beneficial employment.

Therefore, it is more understandable that society cannot use the same principles that are being applied to regular criminals when dealing with youth crime. The priority should have always been rehabilitation and help, never isolation – as the previous part of this essay have portrayed young delinquents almost always come from a variety of broken families or with other social disabilities. The main spiritual goal of mankind has always been the decisive establishment of a stable future, whether it was with science, politics or religion.

The day a society starts imprisoning children for the sake of isolating a rogue element from the rest, is the day when it fails as a collective of rational free-thinking human beings. The responsibility of forming anti youth-crime programmes have always been up the government. When it comes to preventing this type of crime, activities that anticipate criminal behaviour have been an option – activities that reduce the occurrence of criminogenic opportunities or by influencing potential perpetrators and victims of various crimes. (Lab, 2010)

As such these are the following types of prevention:

  • Social prevention; includes activities that influence the process of socialization and social integration and activities aimed at the change of negative social and financial conditions, which are considered to be the main motivators behind criminal behaviour
  • Situational prevention; builds on experience that certain aspects of criminality occur at certain times, in certain locations and during certain circumstances. Using several counter measures involving regimental, physical and technical precautions it is trying to minimize criminogenic conditions. This is most effective when it comes to countering pecuniary injury.
  • Prevention of drug abuse and addiction; considering the prevention of criminal behaviour this type works both to avoid drug abuse and drug experimentation as well as delinquency to a drug and crime free population as well as those that have been rehabilitated.
  • Victims recovery; is based on the concepts of safe behaviour differentiated with various criminal situations and psychological preparedness of persons that are most likely to be affected.

Restorative justice system

The term restorative justice is a process which involves absolutely everyone that has been involved in a crime - perpetrator, victim, witness, families, etc. Restorative justice also tries for an absolute rehabilitation and healing of all these parties involved. Repairing broken relationships between the perpetrator and the state, between the victim and regular life, etc. Despite all of this, the process of restorative justice does not ignore regular procedures and sanctions when it comes to dealing with a crime. It is building upon the regular justice system by expanding the options when it comes to dealing punishment and having rehabilitation and as complete restoration as it can achieve in mind. Basic principles for the restorative justice system were assembled by Ron Claassen, Mark Umbreit and Howard Zehr in 1996 at the Fresno Pacific University in California. (Ness, Strong, & Heetderks, 2010)

Restorative justice system acknowledges that the criminal act is wrong, should not happen and it also acknowledges that there is a risk of danger and opportunity. By the term danger, it is meant that the community, the victim and/or the perpetrator involved will end up feeling condemned, damaged, weakened, etc. They will feel less secure and will feel less inclined to coexist with one another. By the term opportunity, it is meant that the wrongdoing is acknowledged, and justice is restored, thus those involved feel more secure, strengthened and do not have issues with working together and with the community. (Ness & Strong, 2015)
Restorative justice is a process, which “puts things back in order, if it’s possible”. The primary victim of a crime is the person who has been most affected by the crime. This is the one main difference when it comes to restorative justice and regular UK court hearings and proceedings, where the focus is on the crime itself rather than on the damages that have been done.

When compared to the punishment of serving time in prison, the alternative restorative option has several advantages. The condemned person does not have to spend time facing the transforming surroundings of a prison, does not have to deal with the fact of losing one’s freedom which positively influences the minimization of reoffending. Spending time in prison is always connected with prisonization – a negative influence that a prison has on the inmates and their future once they are released. It is often connected with losing the concept of responsibility for one’s own life, behavior as well as future. An inmate after being released loses the ability to live a free life according to law. The only type of life an inmate is used to is the one that is according to the rules of the prison he has spent so much time in. These rules often involve physical and psychological violence, loss of individuality and free thinking, among others. Which eventually leads to the so-called syndrome of “rotatory doors” when the inmate unable to fit back into normal and regular existence looks for such company with which he is able to function. Criminal company. (Crewe, 2009)

Therefore, in many cases, the alternative punishment that does not isolate a person from the rest of normal society and does not create an obstacle when it comes to reintegrating back into society are more preferable not just for the criminal but the society as a whole; not to mention the family of the perpetrator, loved ones, etc. Using an alternative punishment gives the criminal a chance to pay for the crime that was committed without the negative side-effects of prisonization, as such this kind of punishment has a lower cost for the state as well. Breaking bonds with the community where a person works and lives does not happen. A law breaking individual does not become an outcast and is still a part of a wider collective of people. During such an alternative punishment, the criminal is being observed and monitored whether the conditions of the punishment are being met, as well as his individual social needs. These include: probation, community service, rehabilitation – either social or drug related. (Elliot & Gordon, 2005)

To sum it up: these advantages come in the form of lower costs/upkeep, better involvement of the general public with reeducation and reintegration, in an increasing interest of citizens in dealing with perpetrators and in creating a feeling of responsibility for criminal justice.


This essay has demonstrated that there are many reported causes for youth crime and many ways how these causes changed with the passing of time. Some remained the same, some changed – family being still the number one factor, whether it is now or two decades ago.

The second part of this essay described how we are dealing with youth crime today and criticized various aspects of these practices.

The third part described the restorative justice system and its benefits. How it focuses on the victim and not on the crime – making sure the damages are repaired and the victim is recompensed.

However, the basic principle being that there will always be factors that statistically show that this or that is the cause for youth crime – as well as the fact that if someone is paid to find some new cause, they will. It has always been the job of parents to teach their children right from wrong and to show them compassion for their fellow man. Thus, our understanding of the problem of youth being something that needs to be rehabilitated, not isolated – and the same thing applies to criminals. As with everything scientific or otherwise, there are exceptions that prove the rule. However, it is our duty to rule out such exceptions and make sure that as many criminals as possible are rehabilitated and reintegrated back into society.

Author: lt. MSc. BA Jan Janek


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