Young People, Crime And The Media In The UK

Police cars on High Holborn

The stereotypical views that the public tends to have towards young people in Britain can be largely attributed to the way they are portrayed by the press. Selective reporting adopted by most tabloids to reflect public attitudes towards young people has created a distorted picture. The isolated cases of young people involved in anti-social behaviour can be over blown to create the impression that a substantial number of them are out of control and need hard hitting measures from the criminal justice system.

The numbers of young people involved in criminal activities are usually over estimated resulting in the presence of young people in communal areas particularly in deprived communities being unsettling for people of a certain generation, who often times associate the way young people present themselves with criminality. Certain items of clothing such as hoodies designed by major sports labels and predominantly worn by youngsters fuel negative impressions of young people as dangerous.

These widely held perceptions do not correspond with reality. Most young people are not inherently criminal but tend to form peer groups – particularly where parental supervision is lacking – in a bid to provide each other with some sort of social support particularly in the crucial years when they go through the hormonal stresses of adolescence as they try to figure out their identity. The presence of rowdy youngsters on streets where there is very little investment in activities that could engage them, amplifies police suspicion of young people. This suspicion has resulted in an unnecessary heavy handed approach using stop and search powers which stereotype young people.

There is, of course, no doubt that some of the young people who remain unsupervised for long periods engage in criminal behaviour organised by gangs, vandalism and sometimes very serious crimes. They adopt patterns of behaviour aimed at gaining status and being validated within the group.

Despite all this, a recent survey by the British Crime Survey showed that overall crime levels decreased and have remained stable since 2005/6. These trends were reflected in the official crime statistics which include offences recorded by the police. The media rarely focuses on these statistics due to the fact that the public feels that the numbers do not reflect their real life experiences.

There is the assumption in some sections of society that official statistics are unreliable because in some cases there can be a failure to report an incident because of fear of reprisals. The lack of faith that individuals have for the police who are seen as inaccessible, exacerbates the situation. There may also be concern that the police may not take particular cases seriously.

While this may sound simplistic, more needs to be done by the enforcers of the law to ensure that young people engage with them and contributed towards crime prevention within their communities. Alienating them by resorting to conflict policing has led to young people particularly those from ethnic minority groups being indiscriminately targeted by police. Improving the approachability of the police who could visit institutions of learning can have a positive impact and this can be reflected in the way the public and the media perceive young people.


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