The terms 'delinquency' and 'crime' imply at least the possibility of conviction, but the majority of crimes do not result in a court appearance. The term 'juvenile' usually relates to a lower age limit set by the age of criminal responsibility and an upper age when a young person can be dealt with by courts for adult offenders. These ages vary between countries, change over time, and are not the same for all offences.(1)

In describing young offenders the terms 'frequent', 'persistent', 'serious', and 'chronic' have been used to indicate a perceived extreme end of a continuum of juvenile offending. However, the definitions of 'frequent' and 'persistent' are imprecise. Some young offenders who commit the most serious crimes have not offended frequently, and many frequent offenders do not commit the most serious crimes.(2)

Hagell and Newburn(3) reported that approximately 1 in 250 young people aged between 10 and 16 (male and female) were arrested three or more times. These persistent offenders are broadly similar to other offenders but display their characteristics to a much greater degree. (4) A picture is emerging of young people with more educational problems, lower levels of social integration, more disrupted family backgrounds and experience of institutional care, and more developmental difficulty including hyperactivity.

Historical survey

Approaches to the issue of how best to respond to juvenile crime have been dominated by the perceived need to punish the offender. In England and Wales, as in other European countries, during the 1970s and early 1980s strenuous and partially successful efforts were made across many agencies to reduce the juvenile justice process. Many young offenders entered community-based treatment and diversionary programmes/5) and increasingly restrictive criteria had to be satisfied before the imposition of custodial sentences for juveniles. In England and Wales, the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 has a stated purpose for the youth justice system to reduce offending by young people and a mandate that justice, education, care, and health should be involved in this process. The involvement, responsibility, and accountability of parents was recognized by the introduction of Antisocial Behaviour Orders and Parenting Orders.

Rates and patterns of juvenile crime

Individual countries publish crime statistics and the United Nations releases a crime survey every 5 years. However, most antisocial acts do not become recorded crime statistics, and therefore it is necessary to combine sources of information, such as official statistics, self-report data, and victim studies. Victim surveys include the United States National Crime Victimization Survey and the British Crime Survey.(6) Despite major methodological difficulties,(7) self-report studies produce similar findings in terms of frequency of delinquent acts and differences between delinquents and non-delinquents.

Systems for processing criminal behaviour in different countries have similar stages:(8) the legal definition of the behaviour as criminal, recognition that a criminal act has been committed, the decision to report to the authorities, the police decision about the action to take on the report, the identification of a suspect, the decision on how to deal with the suspect, and sentencing decisions.

People aged under 18 commit between a quarter and a third of offences in England and Wales and the United States. A quarter of those cautioned or convicted of indictable offences in 1995 in England and Wales were aged between 10 and 17 years. Almost half of male offenders aged between 14 and 17 years of age and three-quarters of female offenders in the same age group were cautioned or prosecuted for shoplifting and other thefts. If burglary is included in this category, the rates increase to 64 per cent and 78 per cent respectively, in keeping with data from other countries. (9) Violent crimes form a small proportion of known offending by young people—10 per cent in England and Wales. Crimes involving a gun are 15 times greater in the United States than in Europe. (10)

Eighty per cent of those cautioned or found guilty of recorded offences in England and Wales in 1995 were males. The peak age of offending is usually in the late teens, although there is considerable international variation. In the United Kingdom, it is 18 years for young men and 15 years for young women. Adolescent self-report studies reveal higher levels of delinquency than shown from official statistics, particularly for young females. According to self-report data, over one-third of all offenders have committed one violent offence at some time in their criminal career.

To understand the origins of delinquency, it is necessary to understand the nature and variety of antisocial behaviours displayed by young people, and the key stages of antisocial careers—age of onset, probability of persistence, duration of antisocial behaviour, and the age at which it stops. More is known about criminal than about antisocial careers. The complexity of antisocial behaviour and the difficulty of predicting which individuals will engage in more serious behaviour are apparent in the literature on adolescent offenders and on psychosocial disorders in young people. (!. ,!2) Diagnosis and classifications—bridging the gap

Antisocial behaviour among adults can be diagnosed as dissocial (ICD-10) or antisocial (DSM-IV) personality disorder, or as one of the other personality disorders. (l3) Among children, antisocial behaviour is diagnosed as conduct disorder or oppositional defiant disorder.

Conduct disorder is described in Chapter9.2:..4.. Core features are persistent failure to control behaviour within socially defined rules, defiance of authority, aggressiveness, and behaviour that violates other people's rights, property, or person. Each of these behaviours occurs during normal development, and they vary with the environment in which the child grows up.

The validity of subgroups of offending (e.g. juvenile sexual offenders, young arsonists) and the complex relationship between offending and substance abuse (see later) are less certain.

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