Edinburgh research shows young people in poverty pushed into crime

Two studies carried out by the University of Edinburgh Law School have detected links between crime and poverty.

The studies suggest the Scottish criminal justice system “punishes poor people”, making it difficult for them to escape poverty by pushing them into crime. The responsible agencies have failed to break this vicious circle.

In general, those in poverty are more likely to be involved in crime, either as perpetrators or victims. The Edinburgh Study of Youth Transitions and Crime particularly stresses the direct negative impact of household poverty on young peoples’ criminal record.

The study was supervised by Professor Lesley McAra and Professor Susan McVie from the University of Edinburgh Law School.

In order to understand changes in the behaviour and lifestyle patterns of young people, 4,300 Edinburgh residents have been subject to this study since 1998.

The research shows that, for the same offence, young people in poverty are twice as likely to face police action as those who are financially better off.

They are also five times more likely to get into stationary supervision than wealthier people of the same age.

The second study, conducted by the Applied Quantitative Methods Network (AQMN) Research Centre, highlights the frequent occurrence of crime within deprived communities, despite overall falling crime rates.

The research also finds that crime is concentrated in areas with high levels of chronic health problems and unemployment. The study suggests that the Scottish criminal justice system does not only fail to eradicate crime, it seems to provide fertile soil for crime to flourish in already disadvantaged environments. 

“This raises important questions about whether inequality is being adequately tackled by the Scottish Government”, lead researcher Professor McVie said.

Additionally, according to the study, people who are labelled by offences committed in their youth are more likely to be charged by the police as adults. Those are also the most likely candidates to be endued with the Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEET) status.

Report author Professor Lesley McAra said: “Our findings highlight a very destructive dynamic – poverty increases the risks of violence.

“As a result, contact with the very agencies meant to stop offending is inadvertently reproducing the conditions in which violence can flourish.”

According to a government report, half a million people in Scotland live in severe poverty. Poverty has increased in recent years, not least due to the financial crisis.

On the matter of tackling this problem, Professor McAra told The Student: “Essentially the problem of poverty cannot be solved through the criminal justice system alone.

“It needs an integrated approach to policy development bringing together: housing, health, education, social work, and economic policy.

“The problems identified in the Edinburgh study research are long standing. If we truly want to build a Scotland in which all our young people can flourish, then action is needed now. This requires collaborative leadership across all sectors: deeds not words!”

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