Socialist Worker

Young offenders have been pushed to the brink by the system

Youth worker Dean Ryan looks behind the headlines to show how capitalism pushes young people to crime

Issue No. 2430

Capitalism pushes young people into jail

Capitalism pushes young people into jail (Pic: Andrew Bardwell on Flickr)

As someone who has worked with young people for 20 years I was saddened by the killing of Leeds teacher Ann Maguire by her pupil. 

However as a socialist I’m alarmed by the media coverage of the case. 

Some sections of the press have rightfully expressed concern about the 20-year prison sentence given to Maguire’s teenage killer, Will Cornick.

But others have branded him an “evil”, “callous” and “remorseless” monster that deserves to be locked away for good.

I’ve worked with many young people excluded from school and young offenders.

This has given me an insight into the lives of young people involved in the criminal justice system. 

Over my career I’ve been on friendly terms with teenagers convicted of serious crimes such as GBH, witness intimidation, gang rape and murder.

And I wouldn’t describe any of these young people as “monsters”.

Dig beneath the criminal facade of these juvenile offenders and you’ll often find young minds that have been brutalised by one or more factors.

This includes growing up in extreme poverty, parental drug addiction, domestic violence, sexual abuse and being in the care system. 

At first glance Ann Maguire’s killer is not deserving of such sympathy. 

He’s reportedly a high achieving student from a caring middle class family who would have had a bright future in front of him. 


But capitalism breeds alienation, isolation and frustration by depriving us of any real control over our lives. 

As the socialist Frederick Engels wrote in 1844, “Present day society, which breeds hostility between the individual and everyone else, produces a social war of all against all, which inevitably in individual cases assumes a brutal form—crime.” 

To be young under this everyday misery it is not surprising some break under the pressure. So to begin to gain an understanding into what drives young people to murder we need to look at the social factors that shape their lives.

I work alongside professionals in the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service. Many would agree that disturbed young people are shaped by the material circumstances that they grow up in.

But they would also add that a series of complex psychological factors are determining elements that tip them over the edge. 

These mental health professionals agree that years of austerity from the Tories have made it harder for young people to access their service. 

This means many adolescents with serious problems are falling out of the loop.

I am increasingly coming across teenagers from what are deemed to be stable middle class families suffering from severe stress, anxiety and depression. 

Capitalism combined with the recent harsh Tory education reforms has created a brutal and unforgiving world for these young people. 

Statistics bear this out. According to the organisation Young Minds Professionals nearly 80,000 children and young people suffer from severe depression.

We have to see the ongoing fight against Tory education cuts as not only a fight over pay and conditions.

It is also a class struggle for the type of society that our young people grow up in.

Dean works in Hackney, east London. He writes in a personal capacity.

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