Boredom accounts for teenage crime

    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
    justifying exclusion.

    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.

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