IT’S difficult to know what is more shocking – the fact that more than 400 children aged under 10 were suspected of violence offences in the past year or the seriousness of the crimes in question.
These were not minor matters. Data obtained by The Yorkshire Post reveals that the youngsters in question only escaped prosecution for a long list of offences which included rape, arson, burglary and robbery simply because they were under the age of criminal responsibility.
Yet, while some will contend that the parents of the young delinquents should have been charged with abdicating their responsibilities to wider society, the issue is not this straightforward. If it was, it would have been addressed in some form by now.
The fact of the matter is that a significant proportion of these young criminals are likely to be growing up in the care system and bereft of positive parental influences, or role models, who can differentiate between right and wrong. And while the call by South Yorkshire crime commissioner Dr Alan Billings for children not to be given a criminal record until the age of 16 is driven by his work in youth justice, the challenge is confronting wrongdoing in its infancy before today’s petty vandals become tomorrow’s career criminals.
After all, the likelihood is most of the youngsters suspected of serious crimes are, in fact, serial offenders who are in need of far greater support, and attention, from schools, social services and other public agencies rather than being allowed to become feral. Though these miscreants might be below the age of criminal responsibility, it’s even more important that the state intervenes earlier – and more effectively – to avoid the lives of young offenders, and their victims, from being blighted. The question is how when funding can often take precedence over public safety and society’s greater need.