Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Young criminals and how to punish them

There's a sickening report in a British newspaper about young criminals.

Courts should send fewer teenage criminals to jail, the new head of the Government's Youth Justice Board has said.

Frances Done revealed that only 6 per cent of youngsters sentenced by the courts are sent to custody.

But the quango boss, who was appointed to the £85,000 post in February, said she was determined to 'drive the numbers down' further.

She wants the courts to hand out more community punishments, and for problem children to be sent to 'intensive fostering' instead.

This is despite huge public concern over teenage violence in the wake of a string of fatal stabbings.

Last month it emerged that violent crime by young people had risen by nearly 40 per cent in three years, from just over 40,000 offences in 2003-04 to more than 56,000 in 2006-07.

Yet the numbers sent to custody are relatively low. About 2,900 ten to 17-year-olds are locked up in secure children's homes, secure training centres and young offender institutions.

Mrs Done, who oversees the youth justice system in England and Wales, said it was the intention of the Youth Justice Board to reduce the number of custodial terms handed out.

She highlighted a scheme of ' intensive fostering' as an alternative to custody. Under the regime, a support team is employed to work with an offender and their family for a year.

Mrs Done said: 'They've never had boundaries in their lives, they've had chaotic existences. They have to learn to get up, they have to learn to eat properly, they have to learn to do things at a time which has been agreed with their carer. It's a very rigorous regime.'

I think Mrs. Done has bats in her belfry. She's daft. When you have kids as out-of-control as this, I submit there are three things to be done:

  • Get them away from the disastrously deficient home environment that has taught them to behave like this;
  • Remove them from association with their friends 'on the street' who encourage such behavior through peer pressure;
  • Administer a salutary punishment that teaches them - the hard way - that such conduct is unacceptable in civilized society. If that means breaking rocks in a prison, so be it.

My parents administered strict discipline to us as children - so strict that today, it might even be classified as child abuse. It wasn't meant that way, of course. They were products of their time, growing to adulthood in the years of the Great Depression and its aftermath in the 1930's. They knew - they'd learned from bitter personal experience - that they 'd have to make their own way in life, and that to do so required self-discipline, hard work, and adherence to strict standards of what was acceptable and what was not.

Their generation went on to be called the 'Greatest Generation'. They fought and won the war against Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. My father, after marrying my mother, almost immediately went overseas for three years to fight, and didn't question the need. My mother, waiting for him, endured over a hundred air raids, and spent many nights standing watch for incendiary bombs, armed only with a bucket of water and a stirrup-pump to put out the resulting fires. Did either of them complain about their 'lost youth', or moan about being separated, or mutter that 'it's not fair'? Like hell they did! They got on with what they had to do, as did many millions like them.

They proceeded to raise their children with the same ethic. We wanted to slack off our schoolwork, as all kids do, and do only the fun things rather than the hard things: but they wouldn't let us. They set an example, punished us (sometimes severely, including beatings) when they thought we needed it, and kept us on the 'straight and narrow'. Looking back, I can't say I'm any the worse for it - rather the opposite.

In most cases of juvenile delinquency, I've found that parental neglect is a key reason for it. I'd like to see 'failed parents' charged with the crimes of their kids, and punished for them. There are very few cases (although, admittedly, they do exist) where they're not at least partly responsible for them. As for the kids themselves, to treat them with 'kid gloves' (you should pardon the expression) just isn't going to work. If they suffer no consequences for their crimes, what incentive do they have to change?

I've seen many inmates in adult prisons who accumulated criminal records as long as your arm in the juvenile justice system, but never suffered any real punishment. I'm reminded of one who had seventy-three - yes, seventy-three - juvenile convictions, and served only a total of eighteen months in youth institutions. He got used to being able to get away with anything. When he turned eighteen, he proceeded to act in precisely the same way as he'd done before: but now he was eligible for adult trial and an adult punishment. I met him while he was serving a ten-to-twenty stretch for his crimes . . . and he was bitter and angry at the system. He blamed the court, not himself. After all, he'd done precisely the same thing before, and got away with only a slap on the wrist: so it must surely be the result of 'the system being against him' that he was now serving hard time.

(From his perspective, given his total lack of ability to judge realistically, this made sense, of course. He was completely mistaken, utterly wrong, but he simply wasn't able to see or judge reality. In that sense, yes, the juvenile justice system had indeed failed him - by not being strict enough.)

Hold parents accountable for the consequences of how they raise - or neglect - their kids, and make the kids' punishment fit their crimes. There's no other way.



Sevesteen said...

Is violent crime actually going up by that much, or are police metrics changing? According to a couple of English policeman's blogs I read, they have pressure to increase "detections", rather than convictions.

In my area stuff that would have been a couple of days after-school detention when I was a kid is now being turned over to the police and courts. This means someone pushing another kid into the street at the bus stop doesn't even begin to be dealt with for 3 months, and then is dealt with far more harshly, but with much less effectiveness.

How much is parental neglect, how much is lack of parental skill, and how much "If you spank me, I'll call children's services!" and the idea that spanking is always evil? Spanking isn't the best way to raise children, but other methods take skill that parents may not have. Spanking is much better than no discipline.

The guy with 73 juvenile convictions is almost straight out of Heinlein's Starship Troopers--A professor used a similar example to show the insanity of "historical" 20th century culture.

Anonymous said...

My own parents raised four kids from the '50s into the '70s, with strict discipline and solid rules: you broke the rules, there WERE consequences, and we knew it!

I'm firmly convinced the current style of mushy-minded 'feel-good' parenting is the equivilent of child abuse. Too many people want to be their kid's buddies, NOT be real, grown-up parents.

Think about it: say you had a puppy that you NEVER disciplined, that you let do whatever he wanted, whether jumping up on people or peeing on the carpet. All of a sudden, the day that puppy turns two years old, you smack his nose for all the misbehavior you've been ignoring. That would be animal abuse, right? So why is it okay to basically raise a kid that way: let 'em get away with anything for eighteen years, then boom! NOW, all of a sudden, he's in heavy trouble for the same thing that was ignored a week before that 18th birthday. THAT'S child abuse, I'd say.