Critical Reflections on the Risk-Based Prevention of Sexual Offending by Young People

  • Stephen Case
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Risk, Crime and Society book series (PSRCS)


Contemporary understandings of youth offending and consequent youth justice practices in the Anglophone world have been driven by a specific risk discourse framed by the identification, measurement/assessment and prevention of risk of reoffending (reconviction) and committing serious harm to others, with ‘risk’ conceptualised as a series of statistical, quantifiable ‘factors’ amenable to targeted intervention. However, limited cogent evidence is available regarding the risk predictors for sexual offending by young people, which raises doubts over the validity of employing risk assessment and intervention models in this area.

This chapter will critically evaluate the discourse of risk within youth justice practice, particularly its animation through the ‘Risk Factor Prevention Paradigm’. Consequent risk-based youth justice will be evaluated as a practical yet reductionist exercise that over-simplifies and invalidates systemic responses to youth offending (especially sexual offending) through crude factorisation and aggregation of the complexity of risk and the individualisation of the responsibility for offending. Furthermore, these processes may result in the (inadvertent, yet exacerbated) labelling, stigmatisation and marginalisation of young people (arguably more so for those who sexually offend) due to a negative, deficit-focused, practitioner dominance and interventionist net-widening. These uncritical methods and their deleterious consequences are illustrated empirically by international ‘Risk Factor Research’ studies and illustrated practically by a case study example: the ‘Scaled Approach’ assessment and intervention framework in England and Wales. The chapter concludes with discussion of an emerging youth justice discourse known as ‘AssetPlus’, which offers a prospective, prosocial model of youth justice that significantly downplays the role of ‘risk factors’ and introduces a new focus on interactions, processes, meanings and practitioner discretion.


Young sexual offenders Risk prediction Prevention paradigm Risk assessment intervention 


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Stephen Case
    • 1
  1. 1.Loughborough UniversityLoughboroughUK

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