Childhood is a time of promise, of potential, of possibilities. Children are nascent, evolving, malleable individuals shaped by their experiences and their interactions. With the support and guidance of adults, children can become active citizens who have positive life experiences and positive contributions to make to society. They are, after all, the next generation. So with this in mind, why is it that when children break the law, we treat them so appallingly? Why does children’s offending behaviour, however trivial or fleeting, suddenly dictate that we label them as offenders, as dangerous, as imminent harms to themselves and to others – as a collection of risks that adults must manage through punishment and excessive intervention? Why do we assign children full responsibility for their actions when they offend, yet many of those same children are not given the responsibility to vote, to have sex, to drive a car, to drink, to smoke, to buy a house? Offending behaviour seems to catalyse a series of contradictions in our perceptions and treatment of children, exemplified by this sudden onset of responsibility for their actions. The most striking contradiction is how our views of children shift almost immediately from positive, optimistic and nurturing to negative, pessimistic and controlling should they break the law or present as if they might break the law in the future (Case and Haines 2009).
Out with the new, in with the old
Out goes the potential for citizenship and in comes the potential for harm, measured ‘scientifically’ through a restrictive and retrospective risk assessment and intervention framework known as the ‘Scaled Approach’. Out goes viewing children as bundles of dynamic possibilities and in comes viewing children as bundles of deficits and flaws. Out goes looking forwards positively at what children might become and in comes looking backwards negatively at what children might destroy. Out goes putting children first and in comes dealing with offenders first (Haines and Case 2015). Helpless and needy children become feckless and risky ‘little adults’ in the blink of an eye. The Youth Justice System has developed an unhealthy obsession with prevention – with stopping, controlling, managing and reducing negative behaviours, negative outcomes and negative possibilities (risks) of future negative behaviours and outcomes! The inevitable results are negative perceptions of children and an irresistible impetus for adults to intervene fast, hard and frequently to prevent and correct these negatives. The dangers of this prevention-obsessed approach are very real – the exclusion, marginalisation, stigmatisation and further criminalisation of children. When did we stop treating children as children?
Children first positive promotion in the Youth Justice System
What is needed is a children first approach to delivering youth justice that treats offending as a small and normal part of a much broader childhood identity (Haines and Case 2015). We must stop trying to prevent, target and correct the negatives in ‘flawed’ children and instead prioritise the promotion of positive behaviours and positive outcomes for all children, including those who become embroiled in the Youth Justice System (Haines and Case 2015; Case and Haines 2015a). This includes diverting children from the Youth Justice System in the first place! We must prioritise children’s rights and entitlements to universal supports, services, guidance and opportunities. We must prioritise children’s engagement, participation and inclusion in youth justice processes and those outside of the system (Case and Haines 2015b). We must prioritise the engagement of key adults such as youth justice staff, parents and teachers in facilitating these rights and entitlements. The treatment of children who offend must be legitimate (moral, fair, justified) and focused on children’s best interests. A principled and progressive Youth Justice System is one that prioritises positive promotion over negative prevention.
Case, S.P. and Haines, K. R. (2015a) Children First, Offenders Second Positive Promotion: Reframing the Prevention Debate. Youth Justice Journal.
Case, S.P. and Haines, K.R. (2015b) Children First, Offenders Second: The centrality of engagement in positive youth justice. The Howard Journal of Criminal Justice.
Case, S.P. and Haines, K.R. (2009) Understanding youth offending: Risk factor research policy and practice. Cullompton: Willan.
Haines, K.R. and Case, S.P. (in press) Positive Youth Justice: Children First, Offenders Second. Bristol: Policy Press.
This blog was authored by Professor Kevin Haines and Dr Stephen Case and was originally posted on the NoOffence website. The original post can be viewed here.
Andy Whiting March 16th, 2015
Posted In: Youth Justice
As humans, we are all inclined to judge certain events that happen in our society… especially CRIME! Although many of us believe that criminal behaviour is decided by the individual, some focus on other factors such as reasoning, weaknesses and mental illnesses. These are better known as biological factors, involving certain aspects found in a person’s brain functioning that can cause them to make certain decisions… decisions that could possibly be out of their control.
So, are we in control? Well, in order for us to be able to answer this question, we need to identify the reason behind crime.
Recently, a theorist discovered a link between brain deficits and antisocial behaviour which was later found to occur in childhood in which they found it difficult to abide by rules of society. Researchers then discovered the reasons behind these deficits wereassociated with certain events, such as trauma early on in a childs life, or even during foetal development.
Mental health is probably one of the more recognized issues in criminology with many illnesses such as depression, schizophrenia and personality disorders being connected to crime. Although these health issues are believed to be out of our control, statistics show those with mental health problems are twice as likely of committing crime.
Then we have bad behaviour, which later on progresses to aggression, also known as conduct disorder. Unsurprisingly, it is associated with crime with almost three quarters of children demonstrating this behaviour being convicted later on throughout adulthood. Reasons for convictions however, are found to be connected to evidence of associates such as abusive relationships and substance misuse.
Other suspected biological reasons connected to conduct disorder are impulsivity, defined as “the inability to control behaviour” (Farrington, 2007). Like conduct disorder, it has been argued that biology is not a single factor, instead, it is believed to involve outside factors such as the environment, which again, questions our title?
Question: What can we do to prevent crime from happening, and avoid further criminal behaviour? Answer: Prevention schemes and programmes!
Some of you might ask what a prevention scheme or program is… well, it’s a plan put in place by charities, the law and support workers etc to support individuals at risk of crime to prevent it from happening. The purposes of these programmes are to identify problems in individuals and those at risk to improve their situations and increase their skills which hopefully will then eventually stop crime!
Programmes assess each individual situation in order to concentrate on a certain prevention, using one of the following four different types of crime prevention:
Prevention schemes are not only available to the individual, but for those responsible for them as parents. Parenting programs and family nurses are available to pregnant women to identify certain risk factors e.g. smoking, which has been found to cause deficits which then later link to crime. Other risks are introduced to children whilst at school, some of which may not have been identified previously. Some children find their school days very difficult if support is not provided at home and as a result, turn to antisocial behaviour. Programs at school focus on the behaviour of the child and aim to increase their skills and development so that bad behaviour does not become a problem later on.
Other prevention programmes focus on the brain activity e.g. where mental health is concerned, schemes aim to improve brain development through the use of doings in order to avoid criminal behaviour from occurring. Prevention also focuses on the nutrition of an individual with cognitive deficits, as it has been associated with crime. Diet has a key affect on a person’s behaviour and as a result, prevention to poor nourishment such as the use of vitamins and other certain foods is most important.
So… could you answer the question “do you choose crime or does crime choose you?” Researchers are still trying to answer the same thing! By taking biological factors of crime into consideration, it has allowed appropriate crime prevention to be developed, however, theorists still argue to support several other factors and theories to why crime occurs and this will probably continue until we get our final answer!
This blog was written by first year Criminology student Jodie Rackley as part of the assessment for the module “ASC 111: The Criminological Imagination” last term and was based around the article:
Rocque, M., Welsh, C. B., Raine, A. (2012) ‘Biosocial Criminology and Modern Crime Prevention’, Journal of Criminal Justice, 40(4), pp. 306-312.
Andy Whiting March 9th, 2015
Posted In: Criminology Theory
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