Juvenile crime has gone down, reasons for straying remain same
While the number of crimes committed by minors has decreased over the years, factors leading children astray have remained mostly social in nature.
Over the past ten years, the number of juvenile suspects has reduced threefold. While crimes against property were dominant in the past, a growing percentage of crimes perpetrated by minors has been against persons instead. For example, the type of crime that saw the biggest increase in incidents last year was physical abuse.
Kaire Tamm, an advisor at the Analysis Division of the Ministry of Justice’s Criminal Policy Department, said that in ten years, how juvenile risk behavior is dealt with has changed as well.
“Official recorded statistics reflect incidents which make it to the police, meaning which are reported,” explained Tamm. “When it comes to children, we must consider whether we have any infractions for which alternative solutions are found. For example, in the case of school violence, schools can either handle [incidents] themselves or contact the police.”
According to statistics, most recorded infractions were committed by boys, although this was not necessarily the case across all categories of crime.
“If we consider consumption of alcohol, then that is distributed relatively equally between boys and girls — and in recent years even a growing trend among girls,” noted Tamm. The advisor noted that gender distribution of shoplifting cases was nearly equal as well.
Addressing problems at the root
Factors causing juveniles to go astray have been largely social in nature. Minors are influenced by their situations at home and in school, but also by their friends and how they spend their free time.
In recent years, more and more juveniles committing infractions have been directed to social programs, one of which is family therapy dedicated to high-risk children.
According to Tamm, this type of therapy has been taken into use in order to help prevent children from ending up in closed institutions. “In this program, they do not only address the child, but also the entire environment in which the child is growing,” she explained. “They work on the child’s relationship with their parents, their relationship with school, the parents’ own interpersonal relationship — in other words, they try to work on all these factors [in a child’s life] which have caused the child to turn toward crime.”
Judging based on other countries’ experiences, this can be considered a very successful approach. The program is still fairly new in Estonia, but a study should be completed by the end of the year regarding those who have undergone family therapy.
So far, approximately 120 families have been included in the program.