Understanding Youth Offending: Risk Factor Research, Policy and Practice

Understanding Youth Offending: Risk Factor Research, Policy and Practice

Understanding Youth Offending: Risk Factor Research, Policy and Practice

Understanding Youth Offending: Risk Factor Research, Policy and Practice


This book aims to provide an understanding of youth offending and policy and practice responses, particularly the risk-focused approaches that have underpinned much recent academic research, youth justice policy and interventions designed to reduce and prevent problem behaviour. There has been growing concern, however, on the part of critical criminologists and others, about the theoretical, epistemological, methodological and ethical bases of risk-focused research with young people. They have pointed particularly to the overly-deterministic and prescriptive nature of the risk factor paradigm.

This book aims to meet the need for an exploration of youth justice and youth offending which takes account of the origins and contemporary manifestations of risk-focused work with young people. It analyses the influence of concepts of risk upon policy development in both England and Wales as well as internationally, highlighting tensions between the proponents of risk factor research and methodological and ethical criticisms of the risk factor paradigm. It will be essential reading for anybody wishing to understand risk factor explanation of crime, contemporary youth justice policy and responses to offending behaviour.


For some people, risk factor research represents the most important and significant breakthrough in understanding and explaining juvenile delinquency. Unencumbered by complex, implicit or dubious social theories and free of political bias, risk factor research represents the appliance of science to understand social problems. Through the use of pure scientific method, the individual and social factors prevalent in the lives of young people that predict future delinquency are uncovered and the causes and predictors of delinquency are laid bare.

As if this were not achievement enough, risk factor research (RFR) also paves the way for preventing future juvenile delinquency. The list of risk factors for future offending produced by RFR, provides academics, policy makers and practitioners with a ready set of targets for intervention. If the factors in the lives of young people that have been shown to predict and cause future offending can be changed or mitigated then delinquency can be averted or prevented. This potential of RFR to identify the causes and predictors of delinquency and, simultaneously, to offer a ‘cure’, has proven to be irresistible. This ‘irresistability’ has been bolstered by the fact that both the science and the practicality of application of its main findings in concrete, pre-determinable interventions is inherently logical, relatively simple and easily understood – it all makes sense.

Such is the power and influence of RFR that it has come to dominate much juvenile criminology across the (Western) world. More so, RFR is increasingly dominating juvenile justice policy and practice in many countries, notably England and Wales. However, to what extent is this dominance justified? How far is RFR the pure, value free appliance of science and how much has it been influenced by particular theories? Are the findings of RFR so unequivocal? Has RFR really laid bare the causes of delinquency? Are the implications of RFR for policy and practice as clear as has been claimed? Is the link between cause and treatment so conclusive that systems of juvenile justice can be confidently built on this . . .

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