Student Crime Prevention
Despite the high incidence of offenses and sentencing to secure units in Estonia, there has been very little research on youth offenders, of either the factors associated with offending or systematic study of how convicted young offenders may differ from other young people living in the community.
This article will explore factors associated with youth offenders in Estonia by introducing a study conducted in 2004 (Edovald, 2004). This is a study of 49 young people in secure units and a comparative 50 young people in community schools who have not been convicted of offenses. The study aimed to discover how the characteristics of juveniles in secure units differed from those who live at home and go to a community school, focusing on certain aspects such as demographic characteristics, levels of emotional and behavioral problems and parental involvement.
There are three key results from this research with implications for policy and future development of services for juvenile offenders as well as for services to prevent first offenses.
First, in common with studies in the UK and US, the young people in secure units came from non-traditional (reconstituted and single parent) families. Second, offenders exhibited high levels of behavioral difficulties and distress. Third, community students had several similar characteristics to young offenders suggesting that although they may not have offended, the risk of offenses may also be high in this group.
The findings strongly indicate that it is not enough to respond to juvenile offenders once they have offended. A wider preventive approach is necessary. Prevention is generally seen as having three levels. Primary prevention is usually of long-term nature and involves provision of services to families and children in environments such as high crime neighborhoods, with the aim of improving the overall opportunities in life. Secondary prevention is focused on known at-risk groups to prevent involvement in delinquency. Tertiary prevention is addressed to adjudicated offenders (those already convicted of crimes) to reduce recidivism. Prevention also has to be seen within ecological framework of the young people’s lives; their families, their schools, and wider societal values.
Given the similarities between offenders in Estonia and the West, it is worth considering that by importing some of the well-validated preventive programmes from the UK and US (e.g. Head Start and Early Head Start, Sure Start, The Incredible Years, Multisystemic Therapy, Functional Family Therapy), the problem of offending will be tackled. However, it has to be kept in mind that despite the programmes, the proportion of young offenders in UK and US continues to rise.