Measurement of the Extent of Youth Crime in Scotland


Measurement of the Extent of Youth Crime in Scotland


1. This report provides estimates of the number of crimes committed by young people (aged 21 and under) in Scotland. It also provides an overview of the conceptual and practical issues involved in estimating the prevalence of youth crime, anti-social behaviour perpetrated by young people, and the fear of youth crime.

2. To provide estimates of youth crime, we used several official data sources, including recorded crime statistics, SCRA data and data from the courts. Recorded crime statistics were our starting point as the main complete source of crime in Scotland. We then used secondary data sources, such as the Scottish Crime Survey, to adjust recorded crime statistics to take account of unrecorded crime. SCRA and courts data was used to estimate the proportion of all crime that is attributable to young people.

3. A number of major assumptions had to be made in conducting this exercise as all the available data sources have their limitations. These assumptions have to be taken into account in any attempt to use these results for policy or other purposes.

4. We estimate that 43% of all crimes and offences in Scotland is attributable to young people under the age of 21. As anticipated, young people are responsible for higher proportions of offences such as fire-raising (86%), vandalism (75%), theft of motor vehicles (75%), theft by opening lockfast places (65%), handling offensive weapons (59%) and housebreaking (55%). Young people seem less likely to commit crimes of indecency (41%), other crimes of dishonesty such as fraud and reset (30%) and motor vehicle offences (26%).

5. Our estimates suggest that bulk of youth crime is attributable to those aged 18-21 (49%). The under-15s commit over one-third of youth crime, with the remainder attributable to those aged 16-17. 87% of youth crime is committed by males.

6. Most youth crime is theft-related. We estimate that there are around two million crimes of dishonesty per year involving young people in Scotland. These findings would appear to be in line with previous research.

7. There are no reliable data sources that would allow the extent of anti-social behaviour by young people and fear of youth crime in Scotland to be measured fully. Instead, we consider a number of key indicators that attempt to measure these social phenomena.

8. There is no agreed definition at agency level as to what constitutes anti-social behaviour and there is a high degree of subjectivity surrounding this concept. Some types of anti-social behaviour, e.g. vandalism and fire-raising, are captured, in part at least by criminal statistics, and their overall incidence is estimated in this report. However, other types of anti-social behaviour are not crimes or offences at all and different police forces record incidents of youth nuisance behaviour in different ways.

9. It is more appropriate to consider anti-social behaviour in terms of the number of people it affects and its impact on people rather than by attempting to measure its actual incidence levels.

10. The Scottish Household Survey found littering and groups of young people hanging around to be the most common anti-social behaviour problems. These problems are most commonly experienced in areas of social housing and by single parent, single adult and large family households.

11. Some 32% of households reported that groups of young people hanging around were common in their areas. 30% reported problems with rubbish or litter lying about, and 22% problems with people drinking or using drugs. However, other than for the 'groups hanging about' behaviour, it was not possible to separate out how much of this anti-social behaviour was attributable to young people

12. The 'discovery' of fear of crime as a distinct social problem is a relatively recent development. Fear of crime is not directly related to the actual risk of victimisation, and may persist at a relatively high level, even when crime rates have fallen. There are many problems surrounding its definition and, like anti-social behaviour, it is probably more helpful to examine it in terms of its impact on people. The available evidence considers the fear of crime in general rather than fear of crime committed by young people per se. There is little evidence about the latter.

13. A recent report placed the UK among the top three EU member states where feelings of insecurity after dark are greatest. In the UK, people tend to be particularly worried about violent crime, car crime and burglary. People in poorer areas tend to be more worried about crime. There is more anxiety about crime among women and young people under 24 years of age.

14. In Scotland, 31% of people said that they were worried about the risk of burglary, 27% about having their car stolen, and 23% about being mugged or robbed.