Teenage crime on the rise as 'peak age' for offending drops

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Teenagers are more criminally active than young people in their twenties, a Home Office study said yesterday.

Teenagers are more criminally active than young people in their twenties, a Home Office study said yesterday.

The report on youth crime found that, between 1992 and 1998, the peak age of offending by young people fell from 21 to 18. That shift in criminal activity will increase the pressure on ministers to make greater effort to tackle youth offending.

The Home Office minister Charles Clarke said: "We are determined to cut youth crime. This survey demonstrates why the Government was right to bring forward radical changes to the youth justice system."

The fall in the peak age of crime, based on figures from Home Office lifestyle surveys, was largely caused by a sharp rise in criminal activity among boys aged 14 to 17, among whom offending rose by 14 percentage points between 1992 and 1998. At the same time, offending by men aged 18 to 25 fell by six percentage points.

The Home Office research found the "comparatively high" levels of crime among boys aged 14 or 15 reflected their involvement in fighting, criminal damage, buying stolen goods and theft. Researchers found that "offending declined after the age of 21", as young men became less involved in violence.

During their early twenties, men continued to commitproperty-related offences, including workplace theft, and became increasingly involved in tax evasion and other fraud as they approached 30.

The Home Office team analysed anonymous responses to its Youth Lifestyles survey in 1998, which was based on interviews with 4,848 young people. It found that 19 per cent of respondents admitted to having committed a crime in the past year, with 26 per cent of men and 11 per cent of women having offended. But only 12 per cent of those who admitted anonymously to having offended said they had been cautioned or brought to court for their behaviour.

There were distinct differences between the types of offences committed by men and women. Girls were most likely to be involved in criminal damage and shoplifting, while young women in their twenties tended to commit frauds and buy stolen goods.

A recent study by the University of Glasgow found that girls aged 13 to 16 had come to regard violence as a routine feature of their lives.

But the Home Office research found that, although there had been a small increase among offending by girls aged 14 to 17, there had been a big decrease in criminal activity by young women over 18. The report said: "Amongst18 to 25-year-old girls there was a statistically significant de-crease in the proportion admitting violent offences in the last year. Amongst 14 to 17-year-olds there was a similar decrease in the violent offences asked about other than fighting."

Fighting among young women was almost entirely confined to the group aged 14 to 17, where it was as common as among boys aged 12 or 13. Fighting among women aged between 22 and 30 was almost unknown.