Crime or conformity : strategies of adaptation to school exclusion.
During the 1990's the number of young people being permanently excluded
from school increased from 2910 (1990-91) to a peak of 12700 (1996-1997).
This increase coincided with the resurgence of the debate centring on lawless
and delinquent youth. With the publication of Young People and Crime
(Graham and Bowling, 1995) and Misspent Youth (Audit Commission, 1996)
the role of school exclusion in delinquency causation appears to have become
widely accepted within youth justice thinking. Indeed, and despite the limited
research evidence available, the common sense assumption that school
exclusion inexorably promotes crime received wide support, something which
has resulted in the excluded pupil being portrayed as a latter day folk devil.
This research seeks to question this taken-for-granted assumption. By drawing
upon what can be broadly described as a refutationist approach, the research
questions the causal priority of school exclusion in youth crime.
Research interviews were conducted with 56 young people who had
experience of being excluded from school. Self-report questions revealed that
40 young people had offended of whom 28 had been cautioned or prosecuted
for an offence. Despite the high levels of offending present within the sample
the research findings suggest that exclusion is not itself a causal factor with
90% (36) of those young people who had offended reporting onset that
commenced prior to their first exclusion. Moreover, 50 (89%) of the total
number of young people stated that they were no more likely to commit crime
since being excluded. Indeed - and rather significantly, for 31 (55.4%)
respondents it appeared that due to the imposition of parental sanction,
offending was likely to reduce during their exclusion as they were" grounded"
for the whole exclusion period.
Moreover, interviews with the young people also revealed that in addition to
school exclusion a number of other identified "risk" factors were present in the
lives of most of the young people within the sample (see for example
Farrington, 1996; Youth Justice Board, 2001). The research concludes that
whilst the relationship between school exclusion and crime is highly complex
it is certainly neither a sufficient nor a necessary condition for a young person
to commit crime.