BBC Home
Explore the BBC


Teachers: Citizenship: Legal rights

Last Updated: Tuesday May 24 2005 16:03 GMT

Locking up teenage criminals

Citizenship 11-14/KS3/Levels E&F
Crime and justice


Lock and key
Over 1,000 children aged 16 and under are locked up in the UK.

Newsround Extra went into a secure unit to find out more about life for children who are behind bars.

Students look at one boy's experience and examine a poem written by another teenager in custody.

Learning aims

By the end of the lesson, students should understand:

  • Age of criminal responsibility
  • Alternatives to custodial sentences

Evaluate comments on locking up teenagers

A cell

Distribute this worksheet of comments, submitted by young people logging onto the Newsround website.

Students put a tick next to the comments they agree with, a cross next to the ones they disagree with and a question mark next to the ones they are not sure about.

They summarise the arguments and THEIR thoughts by completing these sentences

  • X thinks... I agree with them because...
  • X thinks... I disagree with them because...
  • I believe imprisoning children is...
These instructions are on the bottom of the worksheet.

Students can also add their comments online by clicking on the link in the blue box.


Children behind bars 12 min video

Watch this film.

"Jake's" story


Alternatively, read out this Press Pack from "Jake" who has been in and out of secure accommodation since he was 11. Here he tells Newsround what it's like, and why he doesn't want to go back once he's out.

"Jake's" story and the following questions are available on a printable worksheet.

Ask students:

1.How old was "Jake" when he stopped going to school? 10 or 11.

2. Describe his friends. The wrong people.

3. How did "Jake" break the law? Robbery.

4. How did crime make "Jake" feel at first? It gave him a buzz.

5. How did crime make him feel afterwards? Sorry.

6. When "Jake" was 11, how long did he spend in a secure unit? Less than eight months. He got an early release for good behaviour.

7. What was his main concern when he was younger? Having a laugh.

8. What does "Jake" want to do with his life now? Get a job, go to college, have his own flat.

9. "Jake" gives some examples of having his freedom taken away. What are they? Having to ask to go to the toilet or change the channel on the telly.

Main activity

A new approach to young offenders

This activity comes from the Howard League citizenship and crime programme. They publish a range of resources for teachers and organise conferences for pupils. (Click on the link in the right hand green box for more information.)

Read the class the following poem.

If I were platinum

If I were platinum, then would I be treated precious and rare?
Instead of just a burden to bear, would I have someone that cares?
Maybe my life would have more worth and merit. If my soul were converted into carats.
The police would never attack me. Instead they would guard me. People would want me, instead of give me up and discard me.
But it seems the world would care less as we perish. While platinum would be adored and cherished.
How is it that a mere stone glistening and gleaming. Holds more value and admiration than us human beings.
It's sad that the highest value can be placed on an object so small. While life is treated as if it holds no value at all.

Written by a teenager in Huntercombe Young Offender institution (from the Howard League Magazine)

Jumble of coins, beads and gold bar (Picture: EyeWire)

The poem and the following activities are available on a printable worksheet.

Ask students: What are the dangers to society when young people feel they are of no value? Prompts - their behaviour and treatment of others.

Students plan a new approach to young offenders. The use of custody should be only part of their answer. They explain their ideas as a poem or rap lyrics.

Their new system of punishment and rehabilitation should do the following:

  • Prevent re-offending
  • Help the victims feel that justice has been done
  • Help the offender fit back into society and feel valued
Prompts: Education, meetings with victims, repairing damage, putting something back into the community, curfews, sign a contract, pay for damage, activities to keep kids out of trouble.

Extension activity

Age of criminal responsibility

Ask the class:

1. At what age do young people know right from wrong? Prompt: 5? 7?

2. How old do you have to be before you are responsible for your actions?

3. Is a teenager less responsible for a crime than an adult?

4. Does the criminal's age make any difference to the victim?

Explain that the UK's age of criminal responsibility is 10 years old. This is one of the youngest in Europe. How do students feel about this?

Students write a personal statement that explains their own opinion on the correct age of criminal responsibility.


Young people in the news

Recently youth crime has dominated the headlines.

Ask students:

  • Are young people treated unfairly by the media?
  • Which of the following crimes are mostly committed by young people and which are not?
    • tax evasion
    • drug smuggling
    • drink driving
    • armed robbery
    • fraud
    • vandalism
    • murder
    • mugging
    • stealing from cars
    Teachers' Background

    For more information on the Howard Leagues resources and programmes for schools, contact Catryn Yousefi, Project Co-ordinator on 020 7249 7373.

    Arguments against holding children in prison

    The Howard League believes:

    • Children should not be held in prison.
    • It is a damaging environment and is ineffective in terms of reducing offending.
    • Secure accommodation should be the only form of custody for young people, and should only be used as a last resort in order to protect the public.
    • There is a danger that if the number of children sentenced to custody continues to rise then younger children may end up in prison.
    • Resources should be diverted into non-custodial alternatives that can be targeted on the individual needs of each child.
    For hundreds more news-based lessons, click on Teachers on the left hand side.

  • BBC Homepage >> | CBBC Homepage >>

    Meet the Team | Help | Contact Us | News sources | Privacy & Cookies Policy