Lack of jobs ties men to 'cycle' of youth crime

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The Independent Online

Home Affairs Correspondent

Unemployment is forcing a new generation of young men into a kind of "perpetual adolescence" that leads to more crime, according to Home Office research.

The study provides little comfort for ministers, not only because it underlines links between unemployment and offending, but also because it suggests that the threat of being caught and imprisoned did not deter them. Completed two years ago, the study was one of six which the Government was accused of "sitting on" because it did not like the conclusions.

It has found that men are no longer growing out of their offending behaviour - mainly theft and burglary - in their late teens, and are instead continuing their criminal activities well into their twenties. There was, said the report, "little evidence that young male offenders develop a moral conscience which may inhibit their offending as they grow older". The study concludes that young people today face more serious hazards in making the transition from childhood to adulthood - in particular the availability and heavy use of drugs increasing the risk of criminal activity.

But while girls, who, between 14 and 17, offend almost as much as their male counterparts, mature out of the cycle, boys do not. A key factor is the inability to find work - traditionally one of the main ways of "providing a sense of direction and security and bestowing the status of manhood upon young males," the report says.

Researchers questioned more than 2,500 young people aged between 14 and 25 about their lifestyle, backgrounds, family life, schooling - and any offences they had committed. They were also questioned about their use of drugs.

They found that a quarter of all juvenile crime is committed by a hard core of just 3 per cent of young offenders. Poor parenting and early truancy from school were key factors. Young people living with both natural parents were less likely to offend than those living with one parent or in a step-family, although young men who had had a particularly bad relationship with their father were particularly likely to offend.

The survey also found that one in two males and one in three females had admitted to committing offences, with the same numbers admitting to using drugs - mostly cannabis.

The report, by John Graham and Ben Bowling, recommends targeting drug abuse programmes at 13- and 14-year-olds, making schools the focus of community crime prevention strategies, and developing community based schemes to support and "parent" young men who have no family support.

Presented yesterday to the first meeting of a new ministerial group on juveniles, it also found that young Asians are less likely to commit offences or use drugs than either whites or Afro-Caribbeans; that the peak age for offending among men is 21, and 16 for women.

n Young People and Crime, Research and Planning Unit, 50 Queen Anne's Gate, London SW1H 9AT.