Letter: The reality of juvenile crime

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The Independent Online
Sir: Stephen Shaw (Letters, 6 February) says that juvenile offending has declined, and that this should be a cause of pride. Unfortunately, this decline is only a statistical illusion.

The decrease in the number of officially recorded juvenile offenders (found guilty or cautioned for indictable offences in England and Wales) after 1985 was probably attributable largely to: (a) the increasing use of unrecorded warnings by the police; (b) the effects of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act and the Crown Prosecution Service in reducing the probability of detection and arrest; and (c) the downgrading of 'taking vehicles' to a summary offence in 1988.

As an example of the increasing use of unrecorded warnings: of apprehended juveniles referred to the Northamptonshire Juvenile Bureau in 1985, 14 per cent were prosecuted and 71 per cent were officially cautioned, making 85 per cent recorded. By 1990, the corresponding figures were 10 per cent prosecuted and 20 per cent officially cautioned, making only 30 per cent recorded.

As an example of another illusory decrease, the number of recorded juvenile shoplifters halved between 1985 and 1990. However, our survey of big retail chains showed that there was no decrease in the number of juvenile shoplifters apprehended and referred to the police between 1985 and 1990.

Unfortunately, the massive increase in recent years in serious crimes such as burglary and vehicle theft is not an illusion, but is unquestionably real; and it would be highly implausible to suggest that this increase in crime was not connected with an increase in juvenile offending.

Yours sincerely,


Institute of Criminology

Cambridge University