What would you say to a child who had stolen some money from your purse? What if they apologised and you decided to show remorse? Think about this, what would you do if that same child, exactly a week later, was arrested and charged with causing grievous bodily harm because they smashed a glass bottle over another childs head?
Youth offenders, also called young people, young offenders, are rampant in the United Kingdom. In fact, the UK has the highest rate of youth offenders across Europe. (https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2008/sep/22/ukcrime.prisonsandprobation) Although the article is from 2008, what does it tell us? Charity Barnados stated in that “custodial sentences are ineffective because 78 per cent of 10 to 14 year olds reoffend within 12 months of release”. Quite a significant figure. If you look at what is available to youth offenders, or children, you will see that the criminal justice system or youth court system powers vary widely when dealing with children.
Before going any further, it would aid if you understood exactly what a child is in the eyes of the law. The age of criminal responsibility is from 10 years old. This may bring up mixed emotions when you read it, as surely that is too high, or surely, is too low? Under 10 and you cannot be arrested and charged with a crime, a rather frightening thing though isn’t it? (https://www.cps.gov.uk/crime-info/youth-crime). Some suggestions out there state that people are born good or bad, and if that is true, and a child is bad and commits a heinous crime, like murder at 8 years old… that leaves open a massive hole, which will likely be filled by media misinformation. Young persons therefore, are from 10 to 17 year old. Actually, its 14 and under at which they are classed as children, at the point they committed the offence. 18 onwards is classed as an adult by the law of England and Wales. However, it gets complicated with the 18 year olds. If sentenced to prison, they will enter an establishment called a young offenders institution that holds 18-25 year olds. To read more about the sentencing guidelines of youths read the following (https://www.sentencingcouncil.org.uk/overarching-guides/magistrates-court/item/sentencing-children-and-young-people/).
“…that leaves open a massive hole, which will likely be filled by media misinformation.“
Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act (YJCEA) 1999 introduced safeguards for children which would allow youth court to operate completely differently to the normal courts. The youth court would not be as formal as a crown court. Counsel would not be wearing wigs or gowns and the child will be addressed by their first name, to help put them at ease. There is no public in the court and the identity of the child is to be kept hidden to protect them, although the press is allowed into the youth court. Usually there would be a parent or guardian required if the youth is 16 or under. There would be someone there from the youth offending team (https://www.gov.uk/youth-offending-team) if appropriate along with a court officer. The court will deal with offences such as theft and drug offences, (https://www.gov.uk/courts/youth-courts). More serious crimes like rape or murder, also called grave crimes, will be sent to the crown court.
There has been an overall decrease in young offenders and child offenders ( (https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/youth-justice-statistics-2020-to-2021/youth-justice-statistics-2020-to-2021-accessible-version), however, what the statistics show is that a lot of the crimes committed are predominantly by males.
Young persons committing these crimes seems to be an integral part of society, it drags it down and doesn’t look promising for the future of our country when the children are turning to the dark side of crime. Take a look at the following post by the Crown Prosecution Service – https://www.cps.gov.uk/wessex/news/59-year-old-man-stabbed-and-beaten-teenagers. Both defendants were young offenders at the time of the offence, Clarke being 17 and his unnamed accomplice 15. Upon sentencing, at which point Clarke turned 18, he was stripped of the protection of the youth courts in terms of keeping his identity hidden. His accomplice must have been 16 and thus, they cannot name him. This change in age is significant and it will impact the sentence they received. It was a heinous crime involving stabbing a 59 year old man. Clarke received a sentence of 3 years detention in the young offender institution as has been touched on above. Notice also, that he was sentenced in the crown court. This is because of a few factors, most notable is that he is receiving a sentence above two years. The youth court cannot deal with him due to his age. The youth court can only impose a maximum of a 2 year detention and training order, Section 34A Children and Young Persons Act 1933. (https://yjlc.uk/resources/legal-terms-z/youth-court#:~:text=The%20maximum%20sentence%20in%20the%20youth%20court%20is,Section%2034A%20Children%20and%20Young%20Persons%20Act%201933). Reviewing this 3 year sentence, it does seem appropriate, given his age, given the nature of the offence and his plea. Had he been sentenced under 18, he may have received a detention and training order from the youth court at a lesser rate.
Moving to Clarke’s accomplice, who pleaded guilty to battery and criminal damage at Southampton Youth Court in June 2020. He received a 12 month referral order and must pay £50 compensation to the victim. Being I presume 16 at the time of sentence means he is still within the definition of a young offender. He received a referral order, meaning that he was pleading guilty and would have likely been his first offence. A referral order “must be imposed on any youth with no previous convictions who pleads guilty to any imprisonable offence, unless the court is considering an absolute discharge, conditional discharge, Mental Health Act order or custody” (https://www.sentencingcouncil.org.uk/pronouncement-cards/card/referral-order/). The justice system determined that 12 month referral order with a fine was sufficient. Due to the complex nature of the various possibilities with youth offenders, it will not be possible to cover all of it here.
There is more to young offenders and children being convicted of crimes. There appears much scope for the issues to be tackled before the crimes are committed. Perhaps targeted towards the rampant availability of dangerous weapons which are easy to get hold of. Or, perhaps the inadequate or uncaring parenting that is resulting in damaged children seeking some sort of justice for the way they feel? Is the crimes being committed by children due to a lack of education or empathy? Maybe a lack of human contact or support, drug use, housing issues, family issues… the possibilities are endless. This articles suggest some of those reason – https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/preventing-involvement-crime. Parents are not invisible to the court system though, and should they find their children involved in crime, may be given a parenting order. Such arises where a child doesn’t attend school or commits a criminnal offence (https://www.sentencingcouncil.org.uk/explanatory-material/magistrates-court/item/ancillary-orders/19-parenting-orders/). (https://www.edgehill.ac.uk/law/research/criminology-research/parenting-orders-criminalisation-parenting/).
Ultimately, what someone does or does not do can come down to a range of varying factors, some of which may never come to light, due to embarrassment, such as mentally ill children who have been abused, or those who come from broken homes, or lower income families. It isn’t about blaming anyone though. We can’t resolve an issue by ignoring possible solutions whilst pointing the finger. Youth offending teams and the multiple charities supporting young offenders is incredible. Support is there to give them the rehabilitation they need and possibly more. It is easy to judge someone if they have a child who is convicted, but how would that affect you? Do you see beyond the newspapers and the mostly rhetorical nonsense that the news tells us about the real reasons for young people committing crimes? Do you better understand the legal definition of children and the possible sentences available, so when you see stories purportedly suggesting a 15 year old ‘should have got 10 years’… what will you say?
This has been an article on children and young offenders.