ORA: Understanding and Preventing Youth Crime (UPYC)

Lead Research Organisation: Birkbeck, University of London
Department Name: Law


UPYC is a theory-testing comparative survey of schoolchildren's experience of, and attitudes to, crime and substance use, covering France, Germany, the Netherland, the UK and the United States of America. The study forms part of the International Self-Report Delinquency Study, covering some 25 to 30 countries, mainly in Europe but also from other continents. Four of the five applicants are members of ISRD's Central Coordinating Team (CCT). The study's overall aims are to chart variations in self-reported offending and experience of crime as victims, to test the relative value of different theoretical perspectives for explaining these variations, to develop and test more integrated theories of youth offending and to draw out the implications for youth justice policy in the five countries. In order to do this, surveys of school-children will be mounted in a sample of cities across the five countries The study will contribute to the development of an integrated theory of youth offending, and will trace the implications of this for youth justice policy.

Planned Impact

Who will benefit from this study? The study is designed to have an impact on politicians, officials, strategists and practitioners.

How will they benefit from this study? There are two ways in which the study will be of value to this audience, and help them devise better crime control policies.

1. First, it will provide them with a comparative theoretical perspective within which to think about youth crime.
2. Secondly it will help them understand the detailed contours of youth crime, cross-country variation in youth crime, and variations in responses to it in different countries.

The team has considerable experience and success in reaching policy audiences, measured against citations in policy documents, and our networks reach quite deeply into government departments, and associated organisations such as inspectorates. Some of the applicants also have good links with the European Commission. We are confident that we can package material from the project in ways that are accessible to policy, and that we can 'market' this material effectively at national level in each of the five countries.

We have budgeted in our proposal both for the preparation of (web-based) policy documents and for participation in policy and practitioner conferences and seminars in each country, and for dissemination to supra-national institutions such as the EU Home and Justice directorates.

The project will have a broader social impact by potentially improving youth policies which will better the well-being of teenagers in general.


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Description Analysis in ongoing, and two books and several journal articles are being prepared by the UPYC team. The ORA grant enabled the UK, along with France, Germany, the Netherlands and the US, to take part in the third sweep of the International Self-Report Delinquency Study. Analysis of the - substantial - multi-country dataset is still in progress, but key research findings to date are:

1. Methodological findings on self-reported offending
We have generated new knowledge about self-reported offending as a way of measuring crime: there are large cross-cultural differences in young people' preparedness to report details of their own offending. The idea of a survey that guarantees confidentiality is interpreted differently in different cultural contexts. The cluster of countries which manifested comparatively high response integrity scored well in terms of human development index (HDI). We conclude that the self-report method can be used for comparative research only where there is high cultural homogeneity. However, we do not dismiss self-report surveys entirely as a criminological method. Self-report survey items can play a central part in theory-testing that does not require precise volume estimates of crime. And single-country studies, studies comparing culturally or economically homogenous country clusters, and longitudinal surveys are not necessarily threatened by these findings.

2. Findings on victimization
So far, we have compared seven country clusters in terms of youth victimization. On most dimensions, the cluster of non-European countries show highest levels of victimization. The USA also tended to show high rates, but its pattern was inconsistent. Young Americans were not particularly prone to be victims of violence, but they had the highest likelihood of cyberbullying and theft victimization - perhaps reflecting greater exposure to opportunity. Our findings on hate crime are new and important: Western European countries had the highest rates of hate crime. The South European, Post-Socialist and Balkan clusters had lower victimization rates.

3. Domestic violence against children
We have made some important discoveries on domestic violence against children. Domestic violence against children is an old menace which is increasingly defined as a serious problem. There is extensive variation between countries on violence against children. We have found a loose association between the Human Development Index and maltreatment. In view of the fact that international conventions require that children are protected from all forms of violence, including violence by close relatives and within families, this is an issue which demands immediate attention of researchers and policy makers alike.

4. Reporting to the police
Findings on reporting to the police are consistent with those from surveys of adult victimization. Only a minority of crimes committed against young people are reported, and reporting rates vary considerably between countries. Thus we have shown definitively that police statistics cannot be considered an internationally reliable indicator of crimes against young people. Countries which are often regarded as high on trust tend to have low reporting rates; and police reporting rates do not seem to reflect distrust in the police. Other factors probably explain reporting behavior better: variations across country in offence seriousness; variations in victim-offender relationship; and the presence of alternative conflict resolution mechanisms.

Key findings of relevance for the UK:

1. the hypothesised relationships between the quality of police treatment of schoolchildren, their trust in the police and their perceptions of police legitimacy have been found.

2. the much greater use of stop-and-search tactics in Scotland than in England was reflected in the data, and this greater use appears to depress children's trust in the police and erode beliefs in police legitimacy.
Exploitation Route We are optimistic that other researchers will want to carry out secondary analysis on the ISRD3 database which includes the UPYC one, and that more specifically they will focus on the UPYC data. We have well-developed plans to deposit both datasets in public data archives in the second half of 2017.
Sectors Government, Democracy and Justice

URL http://www.northeaster.edu/isrd/upyc
Description Key early findings on social cohesion and youth crime were presented at an international conference in Amersfoort, the Netherlands, in June 2017. The conference was well attended by officials from the Dutch Ministry of Justice. Findings for England and Scotland have been sent to participating schools, and findings on children's experience of, and views on, stop and search have been submitted to the Scottish Government as part of a consultation process on the topic.
First Year Of Impact 2016
Sector Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Policy & public services

Title UPYC database 
Description The UPYC database is a subset of the third International Self-Report Delinquency Study. ISRD3 involved self-report surveys conducted by schoolchilder aged 12-16 in some 36 countries (data collection is ongoing in some countries). The UPYC database covers the five countries who received funding under the Open Research Area programme: France, Germany, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States. The database is near complete, and is already being used for analysis, and will be deposited in a public domain data archive in the second part of 2017. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact The initial findings from the overall ISRD3 project are being published in a Springer in Brief volume, to be published later in 2017. The UPYC findings will be reported in an edited Springer volume, with a publication date of December 2017. 
Description UPYC under the Open Research Area Programme 
Organisation University of Hamburg
Country Germany 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution The UPYC team (Birkbeck/Edinburgh, Northeastern Uni, Uni of Hamburg, Uni of Grenoble-Alpes, Verwey Jonker Institute) are core members of the wider collaboration producing the third International Self-Report Delinquency Study, working with another 30 institutions across the world. Four of the five PIs are members of the ISRD steering group. The ORA grant has enabled each of us to deliver our country-level contributions to ISRD3, and as a by-product enabled us to steer the larger project towards a successful conclusion. Our contribution has ensured that ISRD3 will become a significant source of international data that will allow theory testing across a range of theoretical perspectives, whilst yielding significant findings about young people's experiences of, and attitudes towards crime and its control. A significant subset of findings relates to differences between respondents with a migration background and others, which promises to shed light on processes of social integration and social cohesion. The Birkbeck/Edinburgh team are contributing to an edited volume on this topic, with contributions from the other UPYC partners. The book is being edited by Professors Hough (at Birkeck) and Roche (at \uni of Grenoble).
Collaborator Contribution The other partners have made a very significant contribution to the UK team's work, both methodologically and substantively. The collaboration is ongoing, although the ORA grant has now finished.
Impact The key outputs are still being written: A Springer in Brief volume covering emerging findings from the first 27 countries to finalise their data, and a further Springer edited volume presenting UPYC findings on the 5 participating countries. Other outputs are listed elsewhere in this form. The team is multi-disciplinary, with members drawn from law departments, sociology and social sciences.
Start Year 2014