Facts on youth offending, gangs and youth violence

Children and young people in contact with the youth justice system are more likely to have mental health problems than those who are not, and to have more than one mental health problem alongside a range of other challenges. Nationally, over the past decade there has been a reduction in the number of young people entering the youth justice system, but this reduction is not uniform and there is evidence of growing levels of multiple, complex and damaging health and social needs among those who have come into contact with the youth justice system.1

In Merton, there has been a year-on-year reduction of first-time entrants (FTEs) to the youth justice system over the past four years, with 77 FTEs in 2012-13, down from 188 FTEs in 2008-09, 144 in 2010-11 and 111 in 2011-12.

Improvements have been achieved by identifying children and young people at risk of offending or being involved in anti-social behaviour through a multi-agency Youth Inclusion and Support Panel and offering evidence-based targeted means of intervention, such as accredited parenting programmes designed to reduce risks and strengthen protective factors.

Although the trend is downwards, in 2011-12 Merton had a slightly higher rate of FTEs (881 per 100,000) when compared with London (864 per 100,000) and England (712 per 100,000).

First-time entrants to the Youth Justice System, rate per 100,000, 2008-12.

Serious youth violence

Overall in the financial year 2011-12, Merton recorded 160 serious youth violence offences. The types of Serious Youth Violence Offence in 2012 were: 19% Violence Against the Person; 13% Robbery; 15% Theft and Handling; and 15% Drug Offences. In the two years 2011 to 2012, the number of ‘violence against the person’ crimes reduced from 95 to 60.

Gangs

The general consensus is that a gangs problem exists across London, and in October 2013 the Major of London appointed a Gangs Czar to assist in the fight against London's gangs. The issue is more evident and widespread in specific local authorities, particularly in those which are classified as Inner London, but the issue is still prevalent in many, if not all, Outer London areas. Whilst evidence and data indicate that Merton does not have a serious gangs issue, it is apparent that there are well-founded concerns indicating that the borough has not escaped the issues that the rest of London faces in this regard.

During a Home Office 'Ending Gang and Youth Violence' Peer Review (October 2013), Merton was praised for the speed within which it tackles gang-oriented issues on a multi-agency level. One of the recommendations within the action plan was for the public health agenda to be expanded to take the needs of young people engaged in, and on the periphery of gangs, into consideration. It was also suggested that this agenda incorporate a strategy that benefited young women who are victims of, or at risk of, sexual exploitation (through gangs and serious youth violence).

A strategy is currently being formulated in relation to public health and the gangs agenda and should be beneficial to residents of Merton. Indeed, seeing crime, particularly youth violence, as a public health issue holds a number of benefits. For example, it opens up a number of opportunities to engage with and help those involved in gangs and violence, such as support with mental health issues and help with reducing alcohol and substance misuse.

Key commissioning implications

  • Substance misuse is a major factor in youth offending – criminal behaviour while under the influence of/or to fund/or to deal in substances is high-incidence youth crime. Work is needed to better market existing pathways into substance misuse services.
  • Universal Substance Misuse prevention strategy needs strengthening e.g. in schools/youth provision.
  • Easier access to a wider range of therapeutic interventions for young people committing violent and sexual crime is needed.
  • CAMHS’s engagement with young people involved in gang activity/victims of gang activity needs to be strengthened e.g. in relation to exiting gangs; and sexual exploitation.
  • Recognising youth crime and gangs as a public health concern is critical in identifying innovative ways of tackling the issue.

References

1. ^ Department of Health (2013). Chief Medical Officer’s annual report 2012: Our Children Deserve Better: Prevention Pays - Chapter12: Youth Justice.