Youth culture has more influence on young people’s
involvement in street crime than their individual personality or
history. This was the conclusion of the Youth Justice Board’s
major study which found that the importance of image to social
status – possession of the right clothes and accessories
– made young people feel that without the latest mobile phone
they themselves would be picked on. The researchers also identified
a culture which glamorised violence and domination – so for a
few young people, robbing a posh kid or a nerd was an exciting
The other major influence on whether young people committed
street robberies was where they lived. Street crime is increasing
most rapidly among under-17s in neighbourhoods where those whose
parents cannot afford to buy them their must-have mobile phones
live among youngsters whose parents can and do. Where people
co-exist without a sense of community, and where disparities of
income are starkly obvious, consumer culture coupled with rapidly
changing technology is fuelling street robbery.
For the government, these findings must be alarming. It suggests
interventions which target individual children, for example the
vast and costly identification, referral and tracking initiative,
may miss the point. Street crime is the result of social factors,
some of which may not be open to influence by governments –
at least in the short term.
But news that the Splash-Plus arts and sports programme reduced
street crime by half in some areas last summer suggest, as
psychologist Paul Stallard argues, that schemes which target all
young people in a neighbourhood maybe a more effective use of
resources than case-work with individuals. Projects like Splash
Plus work not just by giving young people something to do other but
by shifting – however fleetingly – their priorities.
For a few weeks, owning that shiny little photo-messaging Nokia
doesn’t seem quite so essential.