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Youth Offending is at an all time high: Evaluate this claim

If current media representations hold true, British society has reached an all time low stage where we are threatened by gangs of unruly teenagers on every street corner, youths, dressed in the uniform which spreads terror into older generations: hooded top, tracksuit bottoms, trainers. These gangs of youths seem to be a new phenomenon, openly flouting authority, and seemingly responsible for all local anti-social and criminal behaviour. The Conservative Party (opposition) think we should give them a hug, whilst the Labour Party (government) consider that a slightly more authoritarian approach is called for, with their introduction of anti-social behaviour orders (ASBOs), and their belief in a short sharp shock and a custodial sentence (Muncie 2004). As we shall later see both of these approaches have been tried before, with varied impact on the behaviour of the young people involved, and on public and media perception.

A quick search on the Home Office website under the heading youth crime brings up two seemingly contradictory statements.

New Labour, on a wave of moral panic, have designed and implemented an authoritarian approach to dealing with young offenders which  assumes that young people are more responsible for their actions than previously thought. It is a victim based approach with an emphasis on restoring justice, and little consideration to the circumstances leading up to the crime. They have increased the amount of time a youth can be detained in custody for from 6 months per offence to 2 years. They introduced the anti-social behaviour orders which target youthful boisterousness and exuberance, and have become a badge of honour amongst many gangs of teenagers. They have lowered the age of criminal responsibility meaning that children can be charged younger. (Kirton, 2005). The media have seen that there is a need to lock up children again, they have noted a huge increase in anti-social behaviour (which is actually measurable for the first time) and they have noticed the uniform worn by groups of young people and christened them 'hoodies'. The ensuing moral panic, when compared to the histories discussed previously is somewhat inevitable.

This paper has moved through time, sociological theory and successive legislation in order to explore the problem of youth offending and whether it is truly increasing. We have seen that youth offenders have always existed, and while speculation is unwise, it seems possible that for some young males this behaviour may serve some purpose, indeed it may serve a purpose for society as a whole.  Governments will continue to meet with the problem of youth behaviour and successive societies are likely to fall into the lure of the media, and to fall into the ever spinning deviancy amplification spiral.  To answer the assertion that youth offending is at an all time high is tricky. Moral panic is high, youth offending figures have fallen, but they are a factor of statistical anomaly. It seems that society is prone to demonising others, and society has consistently feared groups of different people. Time may show that New Labour have been wise to take this strong approach, or it may go the same way as all previous initiatives. Youth offending is a problem, but it is probably more a victim of demonising and moral panic than a true menace within society.

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