On the basis of surveys of self-confessed young law-breakers in France, Sebastian Roché confirms the view that there is a "hard core" of delinquents (which he prefers to label "overactive"): "Roughly 5% of young people are responsible for between 50% and 80% of the recorded crimes, depending on the level of seriousness of the offences. Roughly 5% of young people who break the law (whether or not they are caught by the police) commit between 30% and 60% of the total number of offences."
Roché sets out to sketch a portrait of these exceptionally delinquent young people. They tend to be male, both French and foreign, and they come from both middle-class and working-class backgrounds. They go round in gangs with friends and siblings; the level of offending increases between the ages of 13 and 17, but then declines again.
Next Roché seeks to explain their behavior, and examines what the delinquents gain from their activities and from the tyranny they wield in order to mark their territory, in the suburbs and elsewhere.
Then, having looked at the ways that young offenders can sort themselves out, the author states his own views about the policies most likely to reduce levels of delinquency. His conclusion is clear: what is needed instead of sermons is heavy sentencing to make good the damage done as soon as possible. For this, reforms will be required, especially with regard to local policing, but are unlikely to happen before the forthcoming presidential elections in France. What then?