Youth Offending and Crime

Young People as Perpetrators of Crime

The level of offending by children and young people is relatively low in Devon, 411 young people were recorded as offenders in 2013-14 committing a total of 719 offences. The total number of young people aged 10 to 17 years who offended in Devon has fallen by 56% between 2010 and 2013 and the overall number of offences committed has fallen by 60% within the same period. According to the Devon Youth Offending Service, the highest number of offences committed in 2013 was violence against the person (24%), theft & handling (20%), criminal damage (12%) and drugs offences (12%).

Children and young people in contact with the youth justice system have higher unmet health and wellbeing needs than other children of their age. They have often missed out on early attention to health needs. They frequently face a range of other, often entrenched, difficulties, including school exclusion, fragmented family relationships, bereavement, unstable living conditions, and poor or harmful parenting might be linked to parental poverty, substance misuse and mental health problems. The overwhelming majority of children and young people in contact with the Youth Justice Service remain in the community throughout that contact, but a small number are remanded or sentenced to custody. The health and well-being needs of children and young people in custody tend to be particularly severe.

For the purposes of the Safeguarding it is important to understand the vulnerabilities of the perpetrators of crimes rather than the offences that have been committed. The following tables show the number of offenders that have been in care, or have had a child protection plan.

Table 8.6, Looked after status of youth offenders in Devon, 2013-14

Looked after child statusAccommodated by Voluntary Agreement Subject to Care OrderOn the Child Protection register
Currently35185
Previously19531
Never105136123
Total159159159

Source: Devon Youth Offending Team, ASSETS completed 2013-14

Over half of the children and young people assessed by the Youth Offending Team (YOT) in 2013-14 had experienced intensive social care input into their families. This is likely to indicate high levels of need within that population.

The vulnerability level reflects the risk of harm-to-self relating to that young person. It is clear from the data that a significant minority of YOT clients are quite vulnerable and will need support to stay safe.

Table 8.7, Vulnerability of youth offenders (2013-14)

Vulnerability Level Number of Young People%
None53%
Low9057%
Medium4730%
High1711%
Total159100%

Source: Devon Youth Offending Team, ASSETS completed 2013-14

Young people as victims of crime

According to the Crime Survey for England and Wales, children and young people are more likely to be victims of crime than any other age group and only 13% of young victims report incidents to the police.

Children and young people can be victims in relation to any offence. For example, as victims they may be abused sexually or physically by adults or, much more commonly, they may be assaulted by other children or have their possessions damaged or stolen. They may also be witnesses in cases involving other children or adults for offences from common assault to homicide. In the domestic setting they may witness violence against a close family member.

Children can be affected by crime even if they are not themselves victims or witnesses. A child may be seriously affected by, for example, domestic violence, even if not present in the same room where the offence is committed.

Both serious and low-level persistent crime can have devastating effects on children and young people, and is related to self-harm or suicide attempts, unemployment or truancy, low attainment and social isolation.

These effects often last into adulthood with a corresponding emotional and financial cost to children, families, communities and the wider society.

The more traumatic the offence for the child (being a victim of or a witness to violence or sexual abuse are the most obvious examples), the more likely it is criminal proceedings may re-traumatise and cause further emotional damage to the child. Yet the most serious cases are usually the ones that will, on the facts, require a prosecution in the public interest, both to secure justice but also to provide protection for the child and the public at large.

According to Devon and Cornwall Police in 2013-2014 over 1,824 children aged under 18 were victims of crime in Devon (this does not represent all child victims as it only covers the first victim in any crime, many crimes have multiple victims). The most common crimes for males to experience where ‘violence with injury’ followed by ‘violence without injury’ and ‘other theft’ where as females were most likely to experience ‘violence without injury’ followed by ‘violence with injury’, the third most common crime was ‘other sexual offences’. Young people in Devon are far more likely to be victims of contact crime and far less likely to be victims of property crime than older age groups. As a proportion of reported crime females under 18 are the most likely to experience rape and other sexual offences than other age groups.