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Criminal Careers of Persistent Young Offenders


Despite perennial interest in the phenomenon, robust quantitative research on persistent young offenders (PYOs) is sorely lacking in the UK. However, it is acknowledged by all quarters that PYOs account for disproportionate amounts of crime, and new interventions to interrupt their criminal careers are constantly being tested. The issue is always central to the policy agenda, and the public debate about these types of children continues. We clearly need to know more about the needs and behaviours of this troublesome group if we are to tackle the underlying causes of serious youth offending and improve the quality of life for all concerned, victims and perpetrators. The Home Office has funded the Policy Research Bureau to undertake this study as part of their `innovative funding stream'.

In order to provide more evidence on the pathways through and out of persistent offending, the study presents a unique opportunity to improve the evidence-base by following-up an original sample of over 400 persistent young offenders who were first studied in the early 1990s. We are drawing up the first UK based picture of the official criminal careers (ie, based on official records) of a large community based sample of PYOs throughout their entire childhood and early adulthood.

What does the research focus on?

The research focuses on the full history of criminal offending over a period of up to 15 years for a sample of 420 young men and women who were all arrested three times or more back in 1992. When data were originally collected, sample members were aged 15 years on average. They are now in their early 20s. We are combining the official criminal record data with the earlier information on demographics and childhood experiences and some current qualitative data. Analysis of the data will explore the types of offences committed at different ages, the ways in which some offences may be ordered within individual criminal careers, the development of specialised offending, desistence from offending, and the effect of custody.

What does the research involve?

The main elements of the research involve desk-based analysis of the centrally held criminal records for the sample. In addition a round of interviews in young offenders institutions is being undertaken with a small group of approximately 20 young people who are currently in custody, to ask them to reflect themselves on the factors influencing and shaping their criminal careers.

Timescale and final products of the research

The project commenced in September 2001 and a report was submitted to the Home Office in late 2002.

Last updated July 2004