Why and what can we do? : university student perceptions of why young people offend : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirement for the degree of Master of Arts in Psychology at Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand

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Purpose. Public perceptions of youth crime have not received much academic attention; instead, most studies have focused on the perceptions of people who offend, their victims and those who work with them. This study aimed to understand better how university students define crime, what they think causes youth to engage in crime, and any recommendations for lowering the youth crime rate in Aotearoa, New Zealand. The purpose of focusing on university students is in hope they will provide new insight as a group close in age to youth offenders. Method. A subjectivist epistemology and an interpretivist theoretical framework were employed in this research. The research was approached using a qualitative methodology focused on grounded theory. Twelve university students participated in semi-structured interviews. Results. University students' perceptions of crime are related to the laws set forth by their government. There was limited knowledge of the New Zealand justice system, and the practises for dealing with young offenders. However, there was general consensus that the existing system was ineffective. Three types of crime were proposed by participants: theft, property damage, and drug-related offences. It was asserted that peer or familial pressure, thrill-seeking, mental health problems, desperation, or a lack of stability are the main causes of youth criminality. Findings suggested improved support networks, mentoring, education, and alternative spaces for prevention. Discussion. The results of the study suggested several methods for addressing youth crime in Aotearoa, New Zealand. Suggestions were made for how the results of this study could be applied in a real-world setting. Limitations and recommendations for further research are discussed with a focus on how to build upon and further the conclusions of this research.
public perception, youth crime, causes, prevention