Sunday, November 05, 2006


When will we all wake up?

Home Office figures this week have again shown increased levels of crime and re-offending rates. Hardly a day passes when there is not a disturbing portrayal of crime on the news.
Our prison population is at its highest ever level with police cells being used as alternatives. Prison and education staffs struggle to deliver meaningful programmes of rehabilitation.
Probation Service personnel describe staff morale as being at an all time low.
An EU report suggested that British teenagers are the worst behaved and most violent in Europe.
Another report has suggesting that UK adults are afraid of its teenagers and that we have lost the ability to communicate with them. Yet demands that young people show more respect to adults is a common theme.

The Chairman of the Youth Justice Board has described how we are locking up more juveniles than ever before and that we need to avoid criminalising young people. The ASBO debate has again been prominent with figures showing that at least 49% of ASBOs are being breached; some people have said the figures are actually worse. In order to address this, a Home Office Minister suggested that those who do not comply can be sent to prison – really!

It has been suggested that Government policy is a reaction to public opinion. In other words, it is the public that is demanding retribution and punishment. Yet, research by the Prison Reform Trust suggests otherwise. Rather, the majority of people simply want offenders to stop re-offending and would be happy for alternatives if they were shown to work.

Critically, not only is the current situation undermining our society, it is costing the state billions of pounds that could be directed towards increased support for the elderly, health provision, the environment and education. As a tax payer, I am left asking, what is going on? Clearly for those disenfranchised young people on the edge of our communities, the system of ASBOs, punishment and prison is not working. If it was we would be pulling prisons down, not building more and re-offending rates would be falling. Yet if we keep doing the same things, we must surely expect to get the same outcomes.

When will we start to address the underlying needs that cause such behaviour? The ‘drivers’ in our lives are surely success and reward.
When will we acknowledge that punishment, by itself, fails to promote meaningful change? Rather it demoralises, de-motivates and depresses, thus perpetuating the existing situation.
When will we start to recognise that only by investing personal time and appropriate role modelling will we effectively promote positive change in young people’s attitudes and behaviour?

Whilst sensationalising cases by the media is partly to blame, the rest must surely lie with the adult population and the way we are allowing our society to develop. Are we all too busy to care about the children that we bring into this world, or are we simply unable to understand what is happening and unable to meet the challenges of being both adult and parent?

The gap between the young and adults is widening. Communication and two-way understanding is becoming increasingly difficult and the fear of young people is worsening. In demanding increased levels of respect one has surely to show respect and provide the appropriate trust and role modelling that inspires our young to follow. Yet many of the standards that adults demonstrate fall well short of what is necessary. Instead of taking responsibility for what is happening, society seems to constantly blame the young for what is happening.

When I reflect back to my teenage years; life was relatively simple. Today, the pressures on our youth are massive and whilst many look to adults for help, sadly it is all too often lacking, resulting in them making their own decisions and sometimes mistakes. The response from adults is then to criticise them for doing so, thereby further undermining young people’s confidence and willingness to listen and engage. Is there a fundamental level of insecurity within the adult population and their own ability to cope?

The bottom line is clear, without change, the situation will not improve. Issues associated with drug misuse, mental health, social exclusion and the fear of crime will continue to drive ever-increasing wedges into the very fabric of our communities. Importantly, the children of today’s young people will probably grow up in similar or worse situations than their parents. Adults must surely stop beating up on our young people and start to take more responsibility for what is happening? We cannot continue to simply leave it to the Criminal Justice System to sort out?

Trevor Philpott
Life Change UK

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