Friday, January 26, 2007

Where next in Youth Justice?

On the back of the current crises within our Criminal Justice System it was with some deep sadness that we heard today of the resignation of Professor Rod Morgan as Chairman of the Youth Justice Board (YJB).

Since taking over the YJB his efforts to deliver a much needed agenda of reform for work with young offenders has earned enormous respect. Although still lacking in the levels of investment needed, the approaches and philosphy that he and his Board have been promoting are undoubtedly the way ahead in helping to reduce youth crime, re-offending and further social exclusion.

Rather than blaming, demonising and incarcerating our young people, there is an urgent and fundamental requirement for the adult population to take responsibility and to reflect and consider why it is that so many of our young people behave as they do. The society that we all live in provides the environment in which they grow up and learn. It is surely therefore our failures and our role modelling and attiudes that are causing so much of what is going wrong. Yet all we do is blame and punish the young. Is it any wonder that so many young people tend to lack respect for the adult population when we have let them down so badly.

The greatest motivators in life are success and reward, not fear and failure. The evidence clearly shows that punishment and custody alone do not work. If it did, re-offending rates would be falling. Rather, we need to focus upon and address the deep rooted negative thinking, insecurities, fears and attitudes that all too often prevail.

So many of those that end up within the criminal justice system lack the most basic levels of personal confidence, self-esteem, sense of self-worth and social skills. Yet these are essential in our our lives. Only when these basic issues are recognised and addressed will we see a reduction in crime. More punishment on top of previous punishment merely reaffirm previous failure. Crtically, we need to give those working with young people the skills and confidence to do so.

We can only hope that Rod Morgan's successor is able and willing to drive the YJB agenda forward and that Rod will find alternative ways of continuing to use his considerable knowledge and skills to assist the process.

Trevor Philpott