Janet Street-Porter: Locking up young people helps nobody

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The hardest word for anyone to say no matter what age they are is sorry. So why has shadow Children's Secretary (and former journalist) Michael Gove chosen to pour contempt on the government's plans to implement a new kind of restorative justice for young offenders, one aspect of which involves offenders apologising to their victims?

The Tories believe the only way to deal with crime is to lock people up and there is more than enough evidence that incarceration, especially for first-time law-breakers and the young, simply doesn't work. In fact, most custodial establishments simply introduce the newly convicted to a whole new world of repeat offenders and drugs. The government has promised to meet its target of reducing the number of convicted young offenders by 2020, and plans to bring in a whole raft of measures radically altering the way that young offenders are dealt with.

From next year, any young person found guilty of committing a low-grade offence will have to explain their actions, and apologise to their victim. In a pilot scheme which has been taking place in Tyneside, there was a 43 per cent reduction in the number of young people re-offending surely a cause for two cheers, if not three. The government also plan to roll out "acceptable behaviour contracts", which are a prior warning issued before behaviour is deemed worthy of issuing an Asbo. They have also promised to spend 160m over the next two years on improving youth clubs, and funding the provision of arts, sports and drama activities for the young.

What's not to applaud in this initiative? I've said time and time again that proper provision of youth clubs, sporting facilities, mechanical workshops, drama and arts clubs all places where young people can spend their time in the evening after school is at the very heart of dealing with bad behaviour. The last thing the young need is more rules, more detention, and more threats.

It's about time that we started recognising their generation as wonderful untapped talent, rather than trainee thugs, arsonists and drug-dealers. We have so successfully demonised the young that Conservatives like Mr Gove have no compunction in referring to them as a problem and using exactly the same language to refer to first-time offenders aged 12 as they would to murderers or participants in organised crime.

By taking part in sport, the arts, learning to play an instrument or rebuild a car, young people will learn teamwork and increase their self-esteem. They will learn the necessity of saying the word "sorry" when they let their team-mates down, let alone break the law. At the moment a ridiculous amount of police time is being wasted trying to monitor the behaviour of a small minority of young people who commit a disproportionately large number of minor offences.

More than anything else, very many young people have made their speciality being irritating to anyone who intrudes on their patch. There is no point whingeing on about what their parents should be doing most of these kids don't have even one parent at home, and if they do, the chances are that mum or dad couldn't care less.

We have to commit resources to stimulating and reaching out to this generation, and nothing will be achieved by making Mr Gove's Christmas wish come true and locking them all up. It's not a question of "sparing" them a court appearance, but very much a chance to try and show them the meaning of right and wrong.

Ignore the music journos

Did I attend the same concert last Monday as this newspaper's rock music critic, Andy Gill? He's now known as "sad curmudgeon" in my household. From the moment they came on stage Led Zeppelin were a triumph. Forget Robert Plant's dodgy hair or the fact that my former fantasy lover, Jimmy Page, now looks like Pete Doherty's grandad. Even a huge arena full of paunchy balding men couldn't detract from the electricity generated on-stage. A couple more negative reviews appeared, written by middle-aged rock critics who find reunions like this unseemly perhaps because they find ageing threatening. Roll on the world tour, and sod the music journos!

* The most atmospheric event this Christmas is Punchdrunk theatre company's production of Edgar Allan Poe's The Masque of the Red Death. I used to look forward to BBC Christmas thrillers, but they have been replaced by prosaic offerings like a Dr Who special starring Kylie. If you share my taste in horror and mystery, then you must beg a ticket to the best show in London, which takes place in the unlikely surroundings of the former Battersea Town Hall.

The hall has been transformed into a warren of dimly-lit rooms, each a tableau of decaying squalor, with piles of musty books, half-written letters lying on Victorian bureaux. In a series of bedrooms and exotic lounges, semi-clad women writhe in distress. Spectators wander through these scenes as they please, wearing a mask, adding to the general confusion and a distorted sense of reality. Whichever route you choose, you encounter a series of Poe-inspired magical playlets, culminating with a ballet The Dance of the Red Death. Unmissable.

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