This article explores children’s experience of policing. Drawing on findings from the Edinburgh Study of Youth Transitions and Crime, it argues that the police may be unfairly targeting certain categories of young people. Evidence is presented on the ways in which police working rules (relating to previous ‘form’ and suspiciousness) serve to construct a population of permanent suspects among children. While street-life places youngsters at greater risk of adversarial contact, ‘availability’ by itself, cannot explain this aspect of policing practice. The police appear to make distinctions about the respectable and unrespectable, children who can be accorded leniency and those who cannot; distinctions which are based as much on socio-economic status as serious and persistent offending. The article concludes that the police act less as legal subjects and more as class subjects in their interactions with young people and that the policing of children may serve to sustain and reproduce the very problems which the institution ostensibly attempts to contain or eradicate.
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