Juvenile crime 'not linked to drug abuse'

Delinquency: 'Risk-takers' defy get-tough Government policy
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Crime Correspondent

The Government's policy of "getting tough" on drugs to reduce crime among young people will have little impact, according to a study published yesterday that found no direct evidence linking the two.

The survey of 768 girls and boys aged 13, 14, and 15 in Leicester also found that 40 per cent of youngsters have taken drugs, while most drink and smoke. Crime among young people was also high, with one- third admitting to shoplifting, one-fifth to both vandalism and handling stolen goods, and 15 per cent to assault. The levels of offences were much higher among single-parent and working-class families.

However, the most surprising finding was that there is little or no evidence to directly link drug use and crime. Instead the report Drugs and Crime - A Study Amongst Young People In Leicester argues that teenagers who are involved in both do so because it is part of their "risk-taking lifestyle". Most youngsters started crime before taking to drugs and there was little evidence to show that anyone stole to feed their drug habit.

The findings challenge both the Conservative and Labour policies of clamping down on drug use among young people in order to reduce crime. The report suggests it would be more worthwhile looking at the social and cultural conditions of the offenders and improving drug education.

Nevertheless, the report by Roger Matthews, of Middlesex University, and Julie Trickey, of the Centre For the Study of Public Order, at Leicester University, gives a depressing story of abuse among teenagers.

It was found that one in eight 13-year-olds had taken drugs, 15 per cent of 14-year-olds and nearly 40 per cent of 15-year-olds. The most commonly tried and used illicit drug was cannabis (30 per cent), followed by LSD (12 per cent), amyl nitrate (10 per cent), amphetamines and lighter fuel (9 per cent), and solvents (7 per cent). Only a handful had tried heroin, crack or cocaine. Surprisingly, only 2 per cent had taken the dance drug ecstasy. About 15 per cent of the sample were classified as regular users. However, the figures are not as high as found in surveys in the north, but higher than the national average.

Overall, boys took more drugs than girls.

Both cigarettes and alcohol were popular, with just over a quarter of the group drinking at least once a week and one in five smoking daily. Three-quarters of boys said they drank compared with 60 per cent of girls.

Asian youngsters took the least amount of drugs, with blacks the highest and whites in the middle. This pattern was also true about crime. Household structure was also found to be a good measure of drug use and offending. Teenagers living with two parents fared better than those with a single female parent or with a mother and stepfather/boyfriend.

On links between crime and drugs, the report says "the pressures to engage in predatory crime in order to purchase drugs is relatively low".

It stated that among the regular drug users - who were also the biggest criminals - the majority spent less than pounds 10 per week on illegal substances. This mostly came from pocket money or part-time jobs. Only six teenagers said they committed crimes to get the cash.

Involvement in drug use and crime were seen as independent and "that a 'getting tough' on drug use as a strategy to reduce crime amongst young people will have little impact".

n Drugs and Crime, Centre for the Study of Public Order, Leicester University, pounds 8.50.