Trends in Youth Offending in Europe
The issue of youth offending, and in particular whether young people are becoming more violent, is hotly debated in many European countries. It is very difficult to establish trends in juvenile delinquency and violence with certainty from statistical sources. This chapter will present the available evidence in order to inform debate on what has really happened to youth offending in Europe. It will focus on the period after 1990. Before this, officially recorded crime rose rapidly in the post-war years in Western Europe, before stabilising in the later part of the twentieth century. This levelling off was not seen in officially recorded violence, although there is some scepticism as to whether recent rises in the official records reflect actual increases or an increased sensitivity to violence (Pfeiffer 1998; Westfelt and Estrada 2005). It will use various sources to examine trends in offending – and particularly the offending of people who are under the age where they are treated as adults in the criminal justice system – in the countries of the European Union. The chapter will begin by discussing the important problems that affect attempts to compare the available data across countries and time. It will then explore the picture of increasing violent offending that is given in official statistics and use data from victimisation surveys to question whether this increase reflects real increases in the occurrence of juvenile crime in Europe.