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Chapter One – Past Perceptions of Young Offenders and the Demonisation of Youths by Society as an Exacerbation of Youth Crime and Anti-Social Behaviour.
1.1 - The History of Youth Crime, Previous Public Perceptions of Young People and the Emergence and Development of Youth Cultures in Post War Britain:
Becker’s (1963), cited in, Pietersen (1997: 346), labelling theory, describes how ‘social groups create deviancy by developing rules, whose infraction constitutes a ‘deviant’ label to be applied to the offender’. We must ask ourselves, what influences society’s decisions to create deviancy and apply deviant labels to offenders, regardless of the harmful consequences? The public are often exposed to periods of increased concern over certain aspects of life; in this case, youth sub-cultures and their behaviours. These periods of increased concern are known as ‘Moral panics’. Cohen’s (1972) Folk Devils and Moral Panics ‘graphically illustrated the way in which fears spread amongst society and take hold, contributing an almost constant sense of fear amongst the population. These fears are magnified by excessive media and governmental attention, to the extent that the very moral fabric of society appears to be at risk’ (Smith, R. 2007: 170). Moral Panics do not have to be focused on crime and deviancy; there can be moral panics on the subjects of; war, health, education, politics and any other subject that may, in some way, pose a significant threat to public prosperity.
For something to constitute a moral panic, certain requirements must be met. According to Goode and Ben-Yehuda (1994), cited in, Poyser (2011b: 7), the public must show; an ‘increased concern’ over the behaviour of a particular group and the consequences of such behaviour. They must show ‘increased hostility’ toward those who adopt such behaviour. There must be ‘widespread agreement or consensus’ that this concern poses a considerable threat to public well-being. The behaviours must be ‘disproportionate from social norms’ and create excessive public concern. Finally, the expressions, and emotions shared amongst society must be considered ‘volatile’ enough to justify an intervention by the state. The behaviours and attitudes often displayed by young people in England and Wales will most certainly fall under the majority of these criteria, therefore creating, a Moral Panic.
Cohen (1980), examines the application of ‘deviant’ labels upon young people and how moral panics can alter public perception. Cohen believed that moral panics are a creation of various pressures on society, stemming from; the government and the media’s sensationalised and exaggerated news reports. Cohen (1980: 9) states that “A condition, episode, person or group of persons emerges to become defined as a threat to societal values and interests; its nature is presented in a stylised and stereotypical fashion by the mass media...” From this we could assume that some aspects of moral panics are presented to the public by the media, in the form of logically constructed and exaggerated reports of supposedly deviant subcultures prevalent within society at that time. McRobbie and Thornton (1995), cited in, Young (1999: 25), also noted how ‘the media’s competition for audience had vastly increased the efforts to induce a panic within society.’
The public are often subjected to various moral panics; and we are presently experiencing a panic over the true innocence of our children, for example; in 2007 Fiona Pilkington ‘took the life of her daughter, Francecca, and herself after ten years of harassment and bullying from teenagers within her community’ (BBC. 2009: np). Here it can be seen that the state took some direct action to combat these kinds of issues as; ‘Home Secretary Alan Johnson criticised the police in the Pilkington case and urged for the Police and Local Authorities to have more power to prevent similar harassment and antisocial behaviour’ (Brady, B., Merrick, J. 2009: np). However, the media’s representations of these kinds of significant and tragic events instil a sense of panic within society.
These reports repeatedly exaggerate aspects of youth criminality in ways that ensure continuing readership. Graeme Wilson, deputy political editor for The Sun newspaper produced an article in 2010, attempting to demonstrate the extent of offending by young people. Beneath a dominant headline of “25,000 Hardened Teen Yobs” (Wilson, G. 2010: np) stated that; “A LAWLESS army of 25,000 young thugs has committed ten or more offences, a report reveals today”. He goes on to state that ‘one in five teen yobs turn into repeat offenders’. This may create a feeling of concern or ‘panic’ over an invasion of an ‘army’ of criminal children. Wilson indiscriminately uses the term ‘yob’, as he does not sufficiently differentiate between the convicted offender and the potential offender. Therefore, we must ask ourselves, for how long have the media, the government and the public perceived young people in this way?
In the post war period of the 1950s, 60’s and 70’s; youth culture underwent significant developments, owing to the emergence of Rock and Roll, Brit Pop and radical new trends in fashion. Fowler (2007: 3) saw the concept of youth culture to be particularly ‘unique to the post Second World War period that permeated the literacy journals of the 1950’s’. During the post second world war period in the United Kingdom, a number of economic changes shook the country. The emergence of Rock and Roll, Brit Pop and new trends in fashion, triggered a radical change in the behaviours and attitudes of young people. Hoggart (1959), cited in, Fowler (2007: 3), makes reference to the adoption of American sub-cultures by British youth in the 1950’s as there being “no good at all” as it made them, rebellious, outcast and thereafter ‘deviant’. New trends in music and fashion began to create divides within society, between the ‘ordinary’ citizen and their children, who have thus far been labelled and excluded by society for adopting these changes. However, the divides between young people and their parents had a ‘diluting’ effect on the significance of the divisions among young people’ (Cartmel, F., Furlong, A. 1997: 60). This was primarily due to their new shared interests in being ‘different’, and essentially breaking away from the restrictions of a parental society.
Since the 1950’s there have been various different youth subcultures that have captivated the country, through excessive, exaggerated and sensationalised media reports and targeted police action. During this time, the United Kingdom saw the emergence of the ‘Teddy Boy’; a group of fashionable youths, who separated themselves from other members of society with their ‘flashy’ and ‘neat’ suits and parkas; this kind of fashion at this time was considered ‘arrogant’ (Poyser, S. 2011b: np). They were seen as the first rebels against the traditional and valued norms of society, they were crazed by modern music and fashion. Cartmel and Furlong (1997: 60) believed that their emergence was a result of ‘economic changes’ and their developments are ‘closely linked to the relative affluence of youth and the way they are targeted by the music and fashion industries’.
The 1960’s continued to show the persistence of certain class structures and cultures, and according to Muncie (2009: 197), the youth of this time were ‘the epitome of the conspicuous customer whether in clothes, scooters, music or amphetamines’. This was the era of the nightclub, and illegal drug taking, mainly ‘speed’ was common amongst young people, which ‘enabled a total commitment to all-night dancing in the clubs and discos. At this time, the ‘mods’ were a reaction against the classlessness and the old fashioned rock and roll style of the ‘rockers’. As the descendants of the ‘Teds’, the Rockers were ‘dismissed as boorish, out of date and crude’. They often engaged in violent altercations throughout the 60’s, including those on the beaches of Margate, Brighton and Hastings in 1964. Cohen (1973), cited in, Muncie (2009: 197), offers a convincing argument that ‘our understanding of this phenomenon has been more than tainted by selective and sensational media reporting’. The era of the ‘Mods’ and ‘Rockers’ was not one to last, as both groups began to disband, becoming normalised through the pressures of the media and the ‘Mods’ and ‘Rockers’ soon merged into what we knew in the 1970’s as, the ‘Skinheads’ and ‘Hippies’.
The 1970’s were not only known for the ‘Skinheads’ and the ‘Hippies’; there was a significant increase in interpersonal aggravated street robbery, a phenomenon known as ‘mugging’. ‘Mugging’ is not legally recognised as a crime; it is however used by members of society to describe a violent street robbery. This increase in aggravated street robbery was linked to a perceived rise in offending by young black males in South East London. Hall, et al (1978), cited in, Gupta (2007: 251), argued that ‘the designation of mugging as a dominantly black crime provided further separations between classes.’ Thereafter, young black males were repeatedly over-reported in the media, and were targeted by the police for random Stop and Search procedures. Section 1 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 allowed for any ‘police officer to initiate a search of a person’s if they have reasonable grounds for suspicion that they have on them stolen or prohibited items’ (Newburn, T. 2007: 786). The use of the Stop and Search powers by the police against young black males has been described by Bowling and Phillips (2002), cited in, Narduzzo, D. (2007: 12), as ‘the most glaring example of an abuse of police powers’. This abuse of power, created extreme tensions between the police and the communities which they were working amongst, eventually the tensions between the police and the community exploded in 1981 resulting in the infamous Brixton Riots. “The rioting which began in Brixton in the South London borough of Lambeth, in April 1981 shocked the nation” (John, C. 2006: np). The riots which lasted for three days, caused around £7,500,000.00 of damage to the Brixton area and left over 300 people injured, was the extreme answer to increased media and police attention towards ethnic minorities that were seemingly unjustified.
The Brixton Riots were essentially a reaction to a controversial police operation called ‘Operation Swamp 81’; a rise in street robbery in Lambeth called for ‘the District Commander to arrange a plain clothes operation of a mass affect of the Stop and Search procedure on the members of the Brixton communities’ (Metropolitan Police Service .no date: np). This operation was not intended to be directly targeted at young black males, however the operation ‘resulted in 118 arrests more than half of which were young black males’ (Newburn, T. 2003: 88). The operation was seen to be a complete failure and a massive ‘error of judgement’ (Scarman, 1982, cited in, Newburn, 2003: 89), straining relations between the police and the Lambeth communities to breaking point. However, we must consider the main exacerbating factor for this social outburst to be the application of deviant labels by society.
 See section 8 of the Theft Act 1968
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