Young People, Crime and Public Perceptions: A review of the literature

Richard White , Karen Halsey

18 February 2009

Offending amongst young people has been at the centre of public and policy makers’ attention in recent years. Media coverage of high profile cases and the frequent portrayal of hooded teenagers ‘terrorising’ communities would suggest that young people are becoming increasingly criminalised. The consequence of this intense focus on young people’s behaviour means that they may be faced with the challenge of growing up in a culture that has widespread negative perceptions of youth.

NFER conducted a literature review which sought to examine the relationship between actual levels of youth crime and the public’s perception of youth crime.

Key Findings

  • A scoping of the literature revealed that the public’s view of youth crime is a relatively under researched area, with little systematic attempt to define and measure public opinion. From the few studies completed, it can be said that there is a tendency for the public to over estimate the scale of youth crime.
  • NFER conducted a separate piece of statistical analysis using public perception data from the Best Value User Satisfaction Survey 2006-07 and Youth Justice Board annual offending data 2005-2006. No correlation was found between the two sets of data, which again suggests that the public’s perception of youth behaviour does not always relate to actual levels of youth offending.
  • As no significant relationship was apparent, other factors, rather than the direct experience of ‘youth crime’, may be responsible for a mismatch between perceptions and the realities of offending behaviour (e.g. media influence, a government focus on anti-social behaviour).
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