Excluded children more likely to go to prison

27 February 2013

Pupils excluded from school at 12 are four times as likely as other children to be jailed as adults, a new study funded by the Foundation shows.

Researchers found that boys, children living in single parent families, and those from the poorest communities were most likely to be barred from school. They also concluded that equally badly behaved pupils from more affluent areas and those from two parent families were accorded greater tolerance and, as a consequence, were far less likely to be expelled.

The study compared the outcomes of children who had been referred to the hearing system by 12 with a closely matched group of young people involved in equally serious levels of offending who had not been referred. Researchers found that those who had been referred were around five times more likely to end up in prison by age 24.

The Edinburgh Study of Youth Transitions and Crime, conducted by the University of Edinburgh, tracked more than 4000 people who started secondary school in 1998. It concludes that early intervention in the lives of children identified as presenting “the greatest risk” does not necessarily reduce offending, but may well groom young people for later imprisonment.

Researchers found that the criminal justice system “constructs, reproduces and recycles its client base”.

Professor Lesley McAra, head of the University’s School of Law and co-director of the study, said: “In practice, the criminal justice system serves to punish poverty, the socially marginalised, and vulnerable individuals, as much as those who steal, assault or murder. For youngsters who come to the attention of formal agencies at an early age, we need to ensure that intervention does not label and stigmatise.”

Professor Susan McVie, co-director of the study, said: “The study findings show that one of the keys to tackling Scotland’s high imprisonment rates is to tackle school exclusion. If we could find more imaginative ways of retaining the most challenging children in mainstream education, and ensuring that school is a positive experience for all Scotland’s young people, this would be a major step forward.”

The Edinburgh Study has been funded by grants from the Economic and Social Research Council, the Nuffield Foundation and the Scottish Government.