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5 Criminal justice and deterrence Offences and sanctions Justifying aims of punishment

Knowledge and perception of the law Getting caught Getting punished

Aggravated Vehicle-Taking Act 1992 Summary

6 Discussion

Sentencing and the criminal justice system Reducing criminality Situational prevention

Implementing preventive


Appendix A References

The law


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The central aims of the present study were to look at the car crime 'career', to assess offenders' perceptions of criminal justice sanctions, and to investigate some of the siluational factors that affect choice of targets. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 100 car thieves aged between 14 and 35 living in a variety of places in England and Wales. They were located through motor projects, probation day centres and NACRO training centres. The social background of the sample reflected that of young offenders generally: low academic achievement, high unemployment, and restricted leisure activities. Those interviewed mostly said that their families were concerned about their level of offending but felt unable to intervene.

Most of the sample became involved in car crime in their early to mid-teens, when over two-thirds were still officially at school. Most had extensive careers in terms of both length of involvement and number of offences committed, offending at least two to three nights a week al their peak. Many had escaped contact with the police for much of their career. A fifth had never come to police notice at all. involvement in other crime was not uncommon—including burglary, shoplifting, and ramraiding.

Initial involvement in car crime tended to be with other more experienced offenders and primary reasons for starting to steal cars were peer influence, boredom and potential excitement. A period of 'apprenticeship' lasted for around six months to a year, after which thieves became notably more skilled and confident. After this, for many, stealing cars became more than just a way of getting a thrill. As well as the money to be made from casual theft from cars, which was very common, just over a third of the sample went on to more organised profit-making, termed here 'professional' theft. This included stripping cars to sell the parts; giving them false identities for resale; selling them on to receivers; or destroying them for insurance purposes. A fifth of the sample, some of whom engaged in other professional car crime activities, also became ramraiders. As careers progressed, the opportunity for financial gain began to feature more prominently in motivations for offending, though excitement was clearly still a factor.

The findings suggest that excessive levels of car theft are more akin to an adolescent infatuation or obsession than to true compulsion or addiction. A strong degree of personal pay-off in terms of excitement, status and self esteem,


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