A young offender is a person who has been convicted of, or cautioned about, a criminal offence. A young offender can be male or female. Criminal justice systems will often deal with young offenders in a different way to adult offenders. The term ‘young offender’ will differ from country to country, depending on the age of criminal responsibility in that country. The UK Home Office defines a persistent young offender as:

” a young person aged 10-17 years who has been sentenced by any criminal court in the UK on three or more occasions for one or more recordable offences and within three years of the last sentencing occasion is subsequently arrested or has any information laid against him for further recordable offence".

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The age of criminal responsibility is the age that a child is considered to be responsible for a crime. If a child is below the age of criminal responsibility, they cannot be charged with a criminal offence. As mentioned above the age of criminal responsibility varies from country to country.
In the UK for example, children under ten are not considered to have reached an age where they can be considered responsible for their crimes. In the UK, children from 10 to 14 years of age can be convicted of a criminal offence if it is possible to prove that the child was aware that they were doing something that was seriously wrong. From 14 onwards, a child is considered to be responsible for their actions in the same way an adult is. There are some differences in the type of sentences young offenders receive though.

Research over recent years has found some factors that are likely to increase the chance of youths becoming involved in offending. There are some risk factors that increase the chances of younger people committing crimes. These are:

  • Peer group pressure
  • Peer involvement in problem behaviour
  • High proportion of unsupervised time with peers
  • Parental criminality
  • Poor parental discipline and supervision
  • Low family income

Social isolation

  • Alienation
  • Family conflict
  • Drug or alcohol misuse
  • Mental illness
  • Troubled home life
  • Poor educational attainment
  • Lack of skills
  • unemployment
  • Truancy
  • Disruptive behaviour such as aggression, hyperactive, bullying
  • School disorganisation
  • School exclusion
  • Deprivation such as poor housing, homelessness
  • Lack of social commitment
  • Early involvement in problem behaviour
  • Community disorganisation
  • Opportunity for crime
  • Availability of drugs
  • High percentage of children in the community.


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The Youth Lifestyles Survey in the UK isolated the following risk factors for boys in the 12 to 17 year old age group:
  • Boys who were disaffected from school/persistent truants had a higher risk of serious or persistent offending
  • The use of drugs in the last year was a strong predictor of a serious or persistent offender, being nearly five times higher than for non-offenders
  • Young people who were less supervised by their parents and who had friends or acquaintances that had been in trouble were more at risk.
  • Boys who did not hang around in public places were less likely to offend than those who did.
They released the following figures for risk factors of serious or persistent offenders:



Percentage of serious/persistent offenders who exhibited the factor

Disaffected from school


Drug user (using drugs in the last year)


Hanging around in a public place


Delinquent friends or acquaintances


Poor parental supervision


Persistent truant – at least once a month



The figures were based only on male offenders, due to the smaller number of persistent or serious female offenders in the survey. Nevertheless, the risk factors that apply to males are also thought to apply to females.

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