Narrative roles and emotions of co-offending youth


Project Details


Both gang membership and co-offending have been shown to be criminogenic risk factors for some categories of offending, for example violent crime (Andresen & Felson, 2010; Curry et al., 2014). Youth gangs present a challenge for two key reasons: Firstly, because they are heterogeneous groups (Goldman et al., 2014); and secondly because individuals experience different levels of contact, attachment, and involvement, which are liable to change over time (Sweeten, Pyrooz, & Piquero, 2013). Studies that have taken account of these factors have found variations in the types of offences that gang members commit, and even within offences, depending on the organisation, amount of contact, and position within the group (Dmetrieva et al., 2014). Gangs have been associated with three categories of crime, which are often interconnected: acquisitive, violent, and general delinquent behaviour (Curry et al., 2014). Whereas youth gangs have received considerable academic attention there have been comparatively fewer studies relating to non-gang affiliated youth who co-offend. This is despite research indicating that non-gang affiliated co-offenders have the potential to offend more frequently, because of temporary and flexible nature of the group (Reiss, 1988). As with other criminal youth, age and offending style may relate to the types of crimes that gang members are involved with, and the degree to which group membership impacts on an individual’s offending and their desistance. Research has indicated (Ashton, Ioannou & Hammond, forthcoming) that those who contemporaneously offend alone and with others commit significantly more offences than people who are restricted to one offending style and that long-term gang members display different offending patterns to those who are coerced or on the periphery of gang activities. This variance may also be associated with the role of instigator for group criminality (Goldweber et al., 2011). Distinguishing between the roles that young people play in co-offending and delinquency is crucial to understanding how best to support and intervene. Therefore, rather than imposing a generic intervention on referrals interventions should consider local risk factors (Smithson & Ralphs, 2016). Although it is apparent that offending style has a relationship with offending frequencies and variety (Ashton, Ionannou & Hammond, forthcoming), relatively little is known about the relationship between the individual and the offending group. Understanding these dynamics is crucial to the development of appropriate interventions and the supervision of young people who offend because the underlying risk factors are not the same. Studies using a US longitudinal dataset have indicated that solo, co and mixed-style offenders present distinctive psychological profiles and differ in their relationships with others (Goldweber et al., 2011). This finding is important for youth who offend, when considering peer influence and an individual’s ability to change their attitude towards antisocial behaviour, regarding their response to any intervention. Previous UK-based research has used either qualitative interviews (Reiss & Farrington, 1991; Piquero et al., 2007) or quantitative police data (Van Mastrigt & Farrington, 2011) to investigate youth offending styles and behaviour. However, the effectiveness of using socially and culturally biased assessments to determine risk amongst youth has been questions over the past decade (Case & Haines, 2013). Many theories relating to co-offending suggest that young people obtain immaterial, social gains from engaging in criminal activities with others, such as acceptance or status (Weerman, 2003). However, little is understood about the emotions that individuals experience when co-offending and whether these vary. To rectify this, the proposed study will utilise Narrative Theory. This theoretical framework asserts that criminal behaviour can only be fully understood by connecting the personal stories, or “inner narratives”, of an individual with their actions and roles (Canter, 1994). Four possible roles have been identified through narrative research: that of ‘Depressed Victim’, ‘Elated Hero’, ‘Calm Professional’ and ‘Distressed Avenger’ (Canter, Kaouri, & Ioannou, 2003; Ioannou, Canter, Youngs & Synnott, 2015; Ioannou, Canter & Youngs, 2017). Such narratives are crucial in understanding how best to intervene in offending behaviour and how to support offenders in their desistance (Maruna, 2001; King, 2013). Aims and Objectives The overall aim of the proposed study is to inform youth gang interventions by obtaining a greater understanding of how young people view themselves when they offend. There are three main objectives: 1. To understand how young people view their involvement in offending as part of a group. 2. To explore how young people emotionally experience committing an offence as part of a group. 3. To understand the relationship between young people and the offending group to which they belong.

Layman's description

In January 2016 the Home Office recognised the threat that criminal gangs pose to vulnerable young people by publishing a strategy to deal with the problem. Although youth gangs are considered to be an increasing social problem in many major cities, research has shown that those who are members experience different levels of involvement and perform different roles. Some young people who commit delinquent acts or crimes with others are instigators, and others simply follow or feel pressured to take part. Understanding how a young person views their involvement in delinquency and offending is crucial in supporting an individual on their pathway to desistance.

Studies have shown that many of the psychological and social risk factors associated with juvenile delinquency and offending in groups are consistent. However, this does not explain why some young people persist and others desist from involvement in offending. Currently support workers only use a limited list of factors to measure a young person’s level of risk. By obtaining a wider understanding of the how young people view their role when involved in illegal activities it will be possible for those supporting them to find the most appropriate behavioural intervention.

The proposed study will recruit 25 young people who are currently involved in an anti-gang programme and aims to understand how their offending behaviour. The planned method of investigation asks young people how they feel when they are involved in committing a delinquent act and to describe their emotions. Other studies that have used this method have found that offenders see themselves in one of four different roles: as victims; as undertaking a routine activity; as taking revenge for something; or being on an adventure. Offending as part of a group adds the additional dimension of whether an individual instigated the act or was following the group. It is therefore proposed that the narratives will be analysed from both an individual and group perspective. Understanding the role of committing a delinquent or criminal act and also the function of the group are key to providing young people with the most appropriate form of behavioural intervention. The proposed research seeks to add another important dimension to understanding attitude and social risk for young people who offend with others by considering their emotions and the roles they ‘play’ while committing delinquent acts. It also responds directly to two priorities listed by the Home Office in 2016 for ending gang violence and the exploitation of young people by criminal gangs.

Key findings

Young people who are involved in county lines and who have been criminally exploited present contradictory narratives of being professional and emotionally vulnerable. Narratives for young people who co-offend remain consistent across offences.
Short titleNarrative Roles
Effective start/end date3/12/1831/01/20

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