NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


March 27, 2008

A debate is needed on how far Britain should go in identifying potential offenders, given that some experts believe it is possible to identify future offending traits in children as young as five, says, says Gary Pugh, director of forensic sciences at Scotland Yard and the new DNA spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO). 

Pugh's call for the government to consider options such as placing primary school children who have not been arrested on the database is supported by elements of criminological theory:

  • A recent report from the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) called for children to be targeted between the ages of five and 12 with cognitive behavioral therapy, parenting programs and intensive support.
  • Prevention should start young, it said, because prolific offenders typically began offending between the ages of 10 and 13.

According to Julia Margo, author of the report:

  • You can carry out a risk factor analysis where you look at the characteristics of an individual child aged five to seven and identify risk factors that make it more likely that they would become an offender.
  • However, placing young children on a database risked stigmatizing them by identifying them in a "negative" way.

Chris Davis, of the National Primary Headteachers' Association, says most teachers and parents would find the suggestion an "anathema" and potentially very dangerous.  "It is condemning them at a very young age to something they have not yet done.  They may have the potential to do something, but we all have the potential to do things."

Source: Mark Townsend and Anushka Asthana, "Put Young Children on DNA List, Urge Police," The Observer, March 16, 2008.

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