Scotland politics

Scottish justice system 'punishes poorer people'

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Scotland's criminal justice system punishes poorer people and makes it difficult for them to escape poverty, according to an academic study.

It found children from deprived backgrounds were twice as likely to face police action than better-off children who commit the same crime.

Living in poverty also increased the likelihood of violence among both boys and girls.

The government has said Scotland is becoming a safer place to live.

The study was carried out by University of Edinburgh researchers.

They found that a history of being in trouble with the police was the strongest predictor of whether a young person was not in education, employment or training by the age of 18.

Poorer young people were also about five times more likely to be placed on statutory supervision than their better-off counterparts.

Risk factors

And household poverty was identified as an exacerbating factor that increased the likelihood of young people offending.

This was the case even when a range of other risk factors have been taken into account, the researchers said.

They found that people who lived in extreme poverty were much more likely to be the victims - and perpetrators - of crime.

The study also identified gender as one of the most powerful predictors of violence, with boys being three times more likely than girls on average to engage in violent acts.

Girls from poorer backgrounds were twice as likely as girls from more affluent households to be involved in violent crime, the authors said.

This was the case even after other factors - such as truancy, substance abuse and poor parental supervision - were taken into account.

The findings from the Edinburgh Study of Youth Transitions and Crime, by the University of Edinburgh's School of Law, has been published in the latest edition of the Scottish Justice Matters journal.

The study has tracked 4,300 young people in Edinburgh since 1998 to better understand changes in their behaviour and lifestyles.

It has been funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, the Nuffield Foundation and the Scottish government.

Report author Prof Lesley McAra said: "Our findings highlight a very destructive dynamic - poverty increases the risks of violence. Contact with juvenile justice system increases the risks associated with poverty.

"As a result, contact with the very agencies meant to stop offending is inadvertently reproducing the conditions in which violence can flourish."

Health problems

Scottish Justice Matters also published a report that showed the recent fall in crime rates in Scotland has not benefitted areas with the most chronic rates of crime.

A study by Applied Quantitative Methods Network (AQMeN) Research Centre - also based at the University of Edinburgh's Law School - suggested that victims experiencing the most crime continued to be within the most deprived communities.

Half of the communities with the highest crime rates were found in the top 20% of areas with the highest levels of chronic health problems, the report showed.

A third of the communities with the highest rates of crime were in the top 20% of areas with the highest levels of unemployment.

Lead researcher Prof Susan McVie said: "The findings are important as they suggest that crime tends to be highly concentrated amongst poor people and within poor neighbourhoods, and this has not changed despite crime being at its lowest level for decades.

"This raises important questions about whether inequality is being adequately tackled by the Scottish government."

A Scottish government spokesman said: "Scotland is becoming a safer place to live with recorded crime at a 41-year low, homicide figures at their lowest level in 39 years and 1,000 extra officers on our streets.

"The Scottish government has a long-standing record on protecting the poorest and most vulnerable in our society and we are tackling poverty and inequalities head-on through a number of initiatives including a £296m investment to limit the damaging effects of the UK government's welfare cuts."