Let us treat young offenders before they offend

Taken from a speech given by Sarah Curtis, the juvenile and youth court magistrate at the Strategies to Defeat Crime Conference

Share

Effective programmes for young offenders are based on improving the understanding of young people about the consequences of their behaviour and on giving them practical skills. Young offenders and those at risk of offending must be brought back into the mainstream, whether it is through education, training, employment or a mix of these.

Effective programmes for young offenders are based on improving the understanding of young people about the consequences of their behaviour and on giving them practical skills. Young offenders and those at risk of offending must be brought back into the mainstream, whether it is through education, training, employment or a mix of these.

As far as the small number of most persistent offenders are concerned, general counselling, family counselling and psycho-dynamic therapy may be helpful to young people as individuals, but such counselling does not directly address the issue of anti-social behaviour.

Indeed, putting young offenders into groups which have no clear purpose to address offending behaviour may in fact reinforce their bad behaviour by throwing them together indiscriminately with other delinquents. (Contagion, of course, is one of the sound arguments against imprisoning all but the few young offenders who are violent).

Punishment, however, is important, not just to reassure public opinion but because, if understood and accepted as fair, it enables the young person to move forward. But it has to be understood and accepted, and programmes that only give punishment tend to harden attitudes.

There is at present a contradiction between what politicians and the public say about young offenders and what they say about offenders' parents. On the one hand, it is argued that young people from the age of 10 know the difference between right and wrong and are responsible for their own actions. On the other hand, it is said that parents should exercise control over their children, suggesting that children who offend may be the victims of a lax or deficient upbringing.

There is confusion at the moment between the two sets of expectation. Do we want children to take responsibility for their own actions or do we hold their parents responsible? Suffice it to say that these parents do need help in controlling their children and nearly all of them will accept it voluntarily without a compulsory parenting order, but they need support for longer than the three months of a parenting order.

If we were to abandon what I call "the defeatist fallacy", that nothing can be done about youth crime, what more should this and any government do? Any government must face the fact that providing compensatory education and suitable support and training in the community for everyone costs more money than is now being given. There is quite a lot of "start-up" money available now, but what is needed is "carry-on" money.

It would be more effective, and cheaper, to spend the money we have at an early stage, for example on giving individual support to potentially disruptive primary schoolchildren, than to imprison 12- to 14-year-olds.

Finally, it's a question of changing the rhetoric. I sympathise greatly with the wish for there to be a quick end to juvenile offending, but there really are no quick solutions. It takes years to learn to be a responsible citizen. "Three strikes and you're out" is the stupidest policy possible for reforming young people. The most cursory study of the way children develop should tell our politicians that they don't change overnight.

Politicians, instead of fuelling the understandable anxieties of the public, should publicise their long-term strategy as well as short-term responses, and should explain how complicated any solutions are.

Politicians should take the lead in changing the public perception of what works to stop young people offending. They should explain that only long-term measures will get to the root of offending and prevent it.

It may seem difficult to prevail over the tabloid view of life, but I think people will respond to a hopeful message. I do believe they would be willing to support a realistic and humane way to build a safer society.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C++ Software Developer / Image Processing / 3D Visualisation

£45,000 to £55,000: IT Connections Ltd: C++ Software Developer / Image Process...

Java / J2EE Developer / Agile / Linux

£30,000 to £40,000: IT Connections Ltd: Java / J2EE Developer / Agile / Linux ...

Software Development Manager / Java / J2EE

£45,000 to £55,000: IT Connections Ltd: Software Development Manager / Java / ...

Digital Content Manager,Leicester

£24000 - £28000 per annum: Charter Selection: Leading Nationwide and important...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Prince George's birthday is a pleasant distraction, but the monarchy still makes me feel uneasy

Simon Kelner
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary
Legoland Windsor's master model-makers reveal the tricks of their trade (including how to stop the kids wrecking your Eiffel Tower)

Meet the people who play with Lego for a living

They are the master builders: Lego's crack team of model-makers, who have just glued down the last of 650,000 bricks as they recreate Paris in Windsor. Susie Mesure goes behind the scenes
The 20 best days out for the summer holidays: From Spitfires to summer ferry sailings

20 best days out for the summer holidays

From summer ferry sailings in Tyne and Wear and adventure days at Bear Grylls Survival Academy to Spitfires at the Imperial War Museum Duxford and bog-snorkelling at the World Alternative Games...
Open-air theatres: If all the world is a stage, then everyone gets in on the act

All the wood’s a stage

Open-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Rand Paul is a Republican with an eye on the world

Rupert Cornwell: A Republican with an eye on the world

Rand Paul is laying out his presidential stall by taking on his party's disastrous record on foreign policy
Self-preservation society: Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish

Self-preservation society

Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish
Generation gap opens a career sinkhole

Britons live ever longer, but still society persists in glorifying youth

We are living longer but considered 'past it' younger, the reshuffle suggests. There may be trouble ahead, says DJ Taylor