The Home Office says one in four teenage boys is a “serious
offender”. Prolific offenders account for 2 per cent of the
population but 82 per cent of all crime – and the peak age for
offending is among 14- to 17-year-old males.
A prolific offender is defined as having committed six or more
offences in the past year. The nightmare vision of a multitude of
juveniles attempting to climb the ladder of the criminal
meritocracy, wrong by wrong, is yet again given a media airing.
So, we are awash with “bad ‘uns”. Or are we? The Home Office
research also confirms that most teenagers grow out of crime.
While, among those who don’t, the definition of a “serious” crime
includes stealing sweets and dodging fares.
The problem is that when a working class teenager steals Mars bars
he may soon find himself on an escalator that leads to prison.
Unlike, say, the young men who make up Prince Harry’s gang,
inoculated against retribution by privilege.
The claim that one in four teenagers regularly seriously offends is
misleading. But it has its uses for those in favour of a crackdown.
A less sensationalist approach might concentrate on assessing the
numbers of male and female teenagers who are out of school with
nothing to do, and therefore more likely to engage in
misdemeanours. Many in this group are propelled into offending not
by drug addiction or psychosis but by plain old-fashioned boredom.
This group doesn’t feature in any official statistics. They have
not been officially excluded. They have simply drifted from
truanting to permanent absence. Officialdom doesn’t care enough to
get them back into the system to ensure that they are not
permanently marginalised by a lack of qualifications. On the
contrary, many schools are content to keep these “ghost” pupils on
the register because they are then spared the red tape involved in
Even if these teenagers are rescued and placed in a fresh start
pupil referral unit, too often, too much of the timetable is
allocated to “off site” or “self-managed learning”. Again, that
translates into hours whiled away on the streets.
Ruth Kelly, the education minister, should be brave enough to hold
a proper audit of the entire school population. This would assess
who is present; who is sporadically truanting; who is excluded and
how many teenagers are missing from the education system.