Censored: Violent videos ban for young offenders

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Young offenders in institutions could be barred from watching violent videos in the light of forthcoming Home Office research which is expected to suggest that screen violence increases the rate of violence of aggressive individuals.

The results of the two-year Home Office-commissioned study, to be published in October, could put pressure on the Government to tighten censorship rules for those believed to be most easily swayed by depictions of violence in videos. Ministers are already considering a clampdown on the circulation of violent videos in secure accommodation for young offenders as part of a package of improvements being examined by the task force on youth justice to make regimes more challenging and positive.

Alun Michael, the Home Office minister, said: "We want to look at a whole range of reforms for the the youth justice system and make sure they work effectively and positively. There is a need for rational and sensible action to be taken in relation to the whole system. If the findings of this research helps in that you can guarantee that we will use it."

The report, The Effect of Video Violence on Young Offenders, by Dr Kevin Browne, a forensic psychologist in Birmingham University's clinical criminology department, and Amanda Pennell, compared the reactions to violent material of normal youths with those of violent and non-violent offenders convicted of a range of serious crimes. The 120 youths in the sample, aged from 15 to 21, were questioned in detail about one video immediately after screening and reinterviewed after three and nine months.

A causal link between criminal behaviour and unsuitable material in videos, films, literature or on television has never been conclusively proved or disproved by research. But Dr Browne's research is thought to be the first to study actual responses to material on screen as opposed to viewing habits.

Provisional conclusions were reported yesterday to indicate that while videos would not create aggression where it did not exist before, people who already have aggressive tendencies would commit violent acts more often. Mr Michael emphasised that "99 per cent of the population see portrayals of violence, including in James Bond films, and are completely unaffected", and that it was too early to judge the quality of the research.

He said: "The more you see on television or video incidents of violence, the less shocking it becomes. One would like to know whether there are some people who are particularly vulnerable to the images they see on video. The question is whether some people are more vulnerable to portrayals and don't make the distinction between fiction and reality."

A Home Office spokeswoman said that the British Board of Film Classification already took account of the fact that videos were seen in the home and therefore needed to be classified more restrictively than cinema films.