Trends in Juvenile Violence in European Countries
Based on a presentation by Christian Pfeiffer, Kriminologisches
Forschungsinstitut Niedersachsen (Hanover, Germany)
At the request of the government of the Netherlands, researchers studied
trends in juvenile crime and violence in member states of the European
Union. The study was organized around two key issues:
o Patterns and changes in juvenile crime--in particular, such violent crimes
as robbery, assault, rape, and homicide--as recorded by law enforcement
bodies in several European Union countries. The researchers solicited data
and analyses from responsible agencies in each country.
o The state of knowledge and research about the causes of juvenile crime
and violence. The researchers conducted a literature review and solicited
unpublished material from international colleagues in criminology and
Comparing the data on juvenile crime rates was challenging because most
of the countries used different ways to define "juvenile," define "violent
crimes," classify crimes, and measure crime rates. Therefore, the
researchers generally restricted themselves to comparing trends based on
police figures of arrests and convictions. Also, historical data were not
uniformly available for every European Union country. Thus, most of the
research emphasized crime trends from the early or mid-1980s to the mid-
Juvenile crime rates increased across the European Union
In every country studied, the rate of juvenile violence rose sharply in the
mid-1980s or early 1990s. In some countries, the official figures increased
between 50 and 100 percent. In England and Wales (counted together) in
1986, for example, approximately 360 of every 100,000 youths ages 14-16
were "convicted or cautioned by the police" for violent crimes; in 1994,
that figure had climbed to approximately 580 per 100,000. In Germany the
growth rate was even higher. In 1984, the number of 14- to 18-year-olds
suspected of violent crime in the former West Germany was
approximately 300 per 100,000; by 1995, that figure had more than
doubled, to approximately 760 per 100,000. Rates in the former East
Germany were between 60 and 80 percent higher.
Nonviolent crimes committed by juveniles also increased significantly.
For example, property crimes committed by juveniles (ages 14-17) in Italy
more than doubled between 1986 and 1993 (from approximately 320 per
100,000 to approximately 650 per 100,000).
In general, the victims of violent crimes committed by juveniles were
other juveniles, as evidenced by victimization trends in the European
Union countries surveyed. For example, in the Netherlands in 1995, young
people ages 15-17 were four times more likely than adults (25 and older)
to be the victims of assault. Juveniles in Germany were also more likely to
be the victims of violent crime than were members of other age groups.
The victimization rates from 1984 to 1995 for young children (birth to age
14) and adults (ages 21-60 and age 60 and older) were relatively stable for
each age group. However, the victimization rates for teenagers (ages 14-
18) and young adults (ages 18-21) climbed precipitously, from
approximately 300 per 100,000 in each age group in 1984 to
approximately 750 per 100,000 in 1995.
The research revealed significant gender differences for both victims and
offenders. While data were not available for every country, the numbers
indicated that young men were far more likely than young women to be
crime victims. Offense rates also rose far more sharply among young men
than among young women.
In most countries the crime rate among adults either remained stable
across the years or increased moderately. In no country did the increase in
the adult crime rate parallel that for juveniles. Thus, the increase in violent
crime among juveniles cannot simply be seen as part of an overall trend in
Socioeconomic conditions linked with rates of juvenile crime
It has become axiomatic over the past 20 years that neighborhoods with
depressed socioeconomic conditions--particularly in urban areas--suffer
higher crime rates than neighborhoods with a healthy economy. Since
crime in general has been correlated with socioeconomic conditions, it is
no surprise that juvenile crime is also connected to these factors. In most
of the European Union countries surveyed, the rising juvenile crime rate
accompanied rising unemployment and poverty rates.
In some countries--France and Germany, for example--the problem of
unemployment was exacerbated in the early 1990s by an influx of
immigrants from countries that had been under Communist rule. With the
fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, thousands of people crossed the borders
into Western European nations. The researchers found that those
immigrants who could not overcome language and culture barriers in order
to find employment were more likely to engage in criminal activity than
were those who found jobs and became integrated into society.
Social integration and socioeconomic status are not the sole determinants
for an individual's involvement in violent crimes, however. German
officials recorded an increase in the use of alcohol and other drugs in the
last decade, and firearms became somewhat more available after the fall of
the Berlin Wall than they had been in the past. However, the researchers
attached greater significance to the findings from interviews with 100
young German men who were arrested for violent crimes. While many
came from low-income households, the most common thread in the their
life histories is that they came from families where violence was common:
They were beaten, their siblings were beaten, or one of their parents was
Directions for future research: Individual responses to violence
Recognizing that violence may breed further violence, the researchers are
undertaking an ambitious project in German jails. They are interviewing
500 to 700 young men who are being imprisoned for the first time.
Followup interviews will be conducted 1 week before they leave prison, 3
months after release, 1 year later, 2 years later, and so on. The researchers
hope to develop biographies of these individuals that will explore their
responses to prison and identify how they cope with the culture of
In a separate effort, the researchers are conducting a victimization study of
11,000 young people (ages 15 and 16) in four large German cities, asking
whether the teenagers have ever been victimized and, if so, how they
responded to the attack. The researchers hope to amass a bank of data
describing where the attacks occurred, where the victims turned for help,
and what effect the attacks had on the victims. They will also attempt to
isolate any connections between victims and their attackers, identifying
possible relationships and reasons for the attack. This study should yield
information about the origins of juvenile violence and possible ways to
address the growing problems associated with such violence.
Europe Envies America; Now, Teen-Agers Turn
By ALAN COWELL
Published: February 1, 1998
IN Berlin, a youngster is robbed on the street by knife-wielding teen-agers
who covet his designer-labeled American backpack. In London, a headmaster
is stabbed to death by a pupil outside his school. In the Netherlands, a 30-
year-old man is trampled to death by teen-agers because he tried to talk them
out of tipping other people's motorcycles into a canal. In Strasbourg, France,
young people are blamed for setting 100 cars afire last New Year's.
What has happened to Europe's youth?
Across much of the continent, governments, police and social workers are
challenged by a phenomenon they have difficulty explaining, still less
combatting: While overall crime figures are down, crimes by teen-agers are
increasing relentlessly. They range from shoplifting to mugging and even to
Embedded in this grim chronicle is a particular irony: the United States, long
viewed by many Europeans as a criminal nesting ground, is cast increasingly
as a potential model for crime control, thanks to policies like New York City's
crackdown on minor offenses and California's life-imprisonment laws for
three-time convicted felons. Those practices, Europeans believe, have begun
to erase crime from the political agenda across the Atlantic.
While the street-chic of juvenile crime still looks to America for its basketball
shoes, baseball hats and baggy pants, Europe's elders see other attractions: In
the past few weeks, high officials from Paris and Frankfurt -- Germany's most
violent city -- have traveled to New York to examine America's recipe for
This isn't to say, of course, that the actual crime figures for America and
Europe have been reversed; however frightening Frankfurt's murder rate is
for Germans, it is still only one-sixth the murder rate in New York, where 13.4
murders are committed each year for every 100,000 residents.
What disturbs Europeans, though, is the trend line -- a rise in crime among
European youths at the very moment that violent crime among America's
teen-agers has begun to drop a bit (even if the drop is far less than the drop in
overall American crime). Throughout the 1990's, indeed, violent crime by
young Germans has been running ahead of similar crime in the United States.
In 1993, according to German figures, violent crime among German teen-
agers, measured by the number of youthful suspects per 100,000 people, was
almost 50 percent higher than similar crime in the United States. And just
last December, the French police reported a 14 percent leap in juvenile crime
in 1996, adding to an 18 percent increase the year before.
Each of Western Europe's nations has its own dynamic, drawn from an
explosive mix of racial tension, poverty, envy, drug abuse, broken families,
unemployment and alienation. But beyond that there is a broader malaise:
Europe is entering a ''post'' period -- post-welfare state, post-cold war, post-
industrial society, post-baby boom.
The days when the middle classes, at least, could guarantee their offspring
better, more prosperous times are over. And just as unemployment --
particularly among the young -- seems to have become endemic, slick
advertising and peer pressure have come to exert enormous pressure to
acquire the unaffordable and perishable icons of the consumption era: this
season's sneakers, this month's CD. Why else would the single most prevalent
crime among young people in Germany not be drugs but shoplifting?
And the postwar years have left some of Europe's societies singularly ill-
equipped to cope.
In Britain, schools designed in the heyday of the welfare state to provide every
child with a solid education stand today as forlorn reminders of unredeemed
pledges. According to British police figures released late last year, semiliterate
school-age truants accounted for 40 percent of street crime in London.
In Italy, the judicial system is so broken that almost half the 50,000 people in
prisons are awaiting final sentencing. Yet even there, the statistics show a
near-doubling of juvenile convictions for violent crimes between 1991 and
In France, suburban housing projects in some cities have become known as
the liberated zones of drug dealers, preying on the unemployed descendants
of North African immigrants and the perennially jobless.
Yet the idea of a ''three strikes and you're out'' crackdown still causes
misgivings, colliding with the stubborn sense that Western Europe should
have more liberal values than America on how best to treat convicted
''The security wave breaking over Europe comes from America,'' the
commentator Jean-Gabriel Fredet wrote in the French magazine Le Nouvel
Observateur, arguing that prescriptions of mandatory harsh punishment
contradict a traditional leftist view of the delinquent as the marginalized
victim of ''iniquitous'' and ''exclusive'' consumer societies.
In Britain, where Tony Blair's New Labor party has promised a crackdown on
juvenile crime, critics argue that America has overcome its crime problems
only by creating a prison population of 1.6 million, which reflects a far higher
incarceration rate than that of Britain, with a prison population of 60,000.
The politics of crime, of course, is never just about law-breaking. It is also
about social values and political agendas: Cracking down on voteless
youngsters scores points with an older electorate that feels threatened by
rebellious youth. It is also about race.
When Manfred Kanther, Germany's hard-line Interior Minister, unveiled a
nine-point plan for ''Security Year 1998,'' much of it assumed that crime
equaled illegal immigration. Cut down on unwanted foreigners, the argument
went, and you will reduce crime. The idea, however, does not tally with the
figures: According to Germany's own police, juvenile crime, which seemed to
be on the retreat in the 1980's, is now increasing more rapidly among German
citizens, particularly eastern Germans, than among foreigners.
It is in France that juvenile crime is most closely linked to postwar
demographic shifts that have not only transformed housing projects into
criminal ghettos but have also brought some Europeans up short against their
histories: Once colonial powers, Britain and France seem to have failed
singularly to absorb those former underlings who seek a new home in the
Much of the torching of cars in Strasbourg and other French cities is blamed
by the authorities on disaffected young people of North African descent; not
too long ago, Britain's top police official rekindled suspicions of police racism
by bluntly stating that most of London's muggers were black.
But does the leveling off in juvenile crime achieved in the United States mean
that American get-tough policies are appropriate on this side of the Atlantic?
For some Europeans -- particularly in Germany with its memories of Nazi and
Communist dictatorship -- the balance between civil liberty and public order
may never be allowed to tip very far in favor of the police and prosecutors.
And many cling to the notion that young criminals need crime prevention
programs, personal help and rehabilitation as much as punishment.
In Odense, Denmark, crime fighters have instituted such far-reaching and
intrusive cooperation between the police, social workers and government
officials that crime-fighters routinely visit the parents of young people to warn
them that their offspring might be on the brink of criminal associations.
After a visit to New York last month and a meeting with Mayor Rudolph W.
Giuliani, Petra Roth, the mayor of Frankfurt, was asked if American practices
could make the leap to Europe. ''A lot is not transferable,'' she said, citing the
idea that ''the poorest and the weak'' needed help more than punishment.
''I'm going a European way,'' she said.
Boot Camps-torture and starvation
I wrote about the new GAO report (pdf)on juvenile boot camp deaths, but this Times (London)
article is really a must read.
The Government Accountability Office, the US Congress investigative arm, identified 1,619
incidents of child abuse in 33 states in 2005. It selected ten deaths since 1990 for special
investigation in boot camps and “wilderness programmes”.
What they found:
Examples of abuse include youths being forced to eat their own vomit, denied adequate food, being
forced to lie in urine or faeces, being kicked, beaten and thrown to the ground,” Gregory Kutz, a
GAO investigator, told a congressional committee.
One teenager, Mr Kutz said, was “forced to use a toothbrush to clean a toilet, then forced to use that
toothbrush on their own teeth”. The abuse that preceded the deaths of the ten teenagers was
particularly shocking. “If you walked in partway through my presentation you might have assumed
I was talking about human rights violations in a Third World country,” Mr Kutz said.
One of those who died, emaciated and beaten, Aaron Bacon, kept a journal. His father reports:
He said that Aaron spent 14 of 20 days “without any food whatsoever” while having to hike eight to
ten miles (13-16km) a day. When he was given food, it consisted of “undercooked lentils, lizards,
scorpions, trail mix and a celebrated canned peach on the 13th day”. Aaron died from an untreated
perforated ulcer. His father said that he had been beaten “from the top of his head to the tip of his
toes” during his month at the camp. “His mother and I will never escape our decision to send our
16-year-old son to his death,” Mr Bacon said.
Another horror story:
At the American Buffalo Soldiers boot camp in Arizona, where Anthony Haynes, 14, died in 2001,
children were fed an apple for breakfast, a carrot for lunch and a bowl of beans for dinner, the GAO
report said. Anthony became dehydrated in a 45C (113F) temperature and vomited soil that he had
eaten because of his hunger, according to witnesses. The programme closed and Charles Long, its
director, was sentenced in 2005 to six years in prison for manslaughter.
The report said that five of the ten programmes where teenagers died are still operating, sometimes
under different names. Between 10,000 and 20,000 American children attend the camps every year.
Some charge as much as $450 (£225) a day.
Paul Lewis' son Ryan committed suicide.
A trial is ongoing now in Florida over a death there.
In Panama City, Florida, seven guards and a nurse are on trial over Martin Lee Anderson’s death.
The opening day was so traumatic for his mother, Gina Jones, that she ran from the courtroom,
sobbing and shouting “I cannot take it.”
Prosecutors say that the guards suffocated the boy by covering his mouth, making him inhale
ammonia. The guards and nurse each face up to 30 years in jail if convicted.
If convicted, they deserve every day of the maximum sentence in my view. I have no tolerance for
vicious, intentional abuse of teens or the elderly by cops or others in positions of authority.
A sampling of four of the fatalities:
A 15-year-old girl collapsed of dehydration while hiking in 1990 and lay dead on road for
A 15-year-old boy refused to return to camp in 2000. He was forcibly restrained and died of
a severed artery - ruled a homicide
A 14-year-old boy punished for asking to go home in 2001 was made to sit in the desert,
then left in bath to recuperate - later died
A 14-year-old boy complained of thirst in 2002, was left in sun for an hour and stopped
breathing and died. Staff thought he was faking.
I'd close every one of these camps until tough licensing regulations are drafted and in effect. Then,
those that pass can open, but there should be an ombudsman or Red Cross type worker there to
advocate for the rights of the kids.
I'd also consider requiring a court's approval before a parent can send a child to one of these camps.
And make the camps provide the parents with five random names of the parents of former students
so they can check out how other kids were treated.
Headmaster stabbed to death
The 14-year-old boy, who cannot be named for legal reasons, described how Mr Lawrence, a father
of four, jogged up to a Triad gang member - who was wearing a hood, black hat and scarf across his
face - and tried to reason with him outside the front gates of St George's RC school in Maida Vale,
"Mr Lawrence said to the Triad `We can sort something out about this'," the witness said.
Demonstrating with a round-arm motion, he described how the gang member stabbed the
headmaster in the chest after punching him in the face. "The Triad dropped a knife from his sleeve
and he stabbed Mr Lawrence in the chest," he said. He said he had had a clear view and the blade
had been seven inches in length. "The Triad jogged up the hill. Mr Lawrence went back toward the
school. He passed me. He was holding his shirt. He was staggering and holding his side." The
prosecution alleges that Mr Lawrence was killed after a running feud between two teenage boys at
Mr Lawrence's school had led to the armed gang ambushing one of his pupils in a revenge attack.
One of the gang, who had played truant and "tagged along" because he heard it might be "a laugh",
later described Mr Lawrence's murder as "disgraceful". The 16-year-old boy, who also gave
evidence yesterday, said he was originally arrested in connection with the killing. On the way to the
police station he told officers that another teenager had admitted stabbing the headmaster. "What
was important to me was telling the truth and I told the truth," said the boy. He agreed he had said
to police that the other teenager's action had been disgraceful. Asked by the defence counsel, David
Spens QC, whether that had always been his attitude, the boy replied: "Yes." He said he had tried to
cover up his truancy afterwards by getting himself marked on the school register for that day. He
agreed he did not want it to be known he was at the murder scene. But another reason was that he
was in trouble with the school over truancy. "One more offence and they would have expelled me,"
he told the court. "I did not think I would get arrested because I did not do anything." A teenaged
boy charged with Mr Lawrence's murder, who cannot be named for legal reasons, denies that charge
and two further charges of conspiracy to cause grievous bodily harm and wounding with intent. A
co-defendant, aged 15, also denies the latter two charges.
keywords- case, juvenile, crime, stabbed, europe