Letter: Locking up children will not prevent crime

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The Independent Online
Sir: Bryan Appleyard ('Not paranoid? You're crazy]' 4 February) suggests 'something, very frighteningly and very rapidly, has gone wrong'. He further suggests that the true explanation for the giddy rise in crime must lie in the hinterland between the 'wickedness' of the right and the 'deprivation' of the left, given that 'neither of these cases is remotely provable'.

Surely this is chicken and egg stuff. Moral breakdown and deprivation go hand in hand; disputing causation is neither illuminating nor, more importantly, helpful. (Though it is interesting, in passing, to note the 'statistical plateau of the mid-Eighties'. Which went up during those years, employment or Sunday School attendance?)

What we are actually dealing with here is something more profound than ideologues of left or right have begun to grapple with: something that goes beyond poverty or moral breakdown. In a word, alienation. Crimes are committed, overwhelmingly, by young men: young men our society no longer has any use for. If you're an average British 18-year-old male, the best you can hope for is what author Douglas Coupland has dubbed a 'McJob': low money, no status, no future. It's that or a life of anonymous, relentless poverty. Imagine that.

You got it, I want it, I'll take it. But it goes beyond avarice. Young men commit crimes for material, psychological, sexual reasons - on the surface. But beneath the surface lies a desperate need to do something, to be someone. A need which our society no longer has any means, or prospects, of fulfilling. It is an assertion of power by the terminally powerless. And neither right nor left has any real idea what to do about it.

Yours sincerely,

ALAN PATERSON

London, N16

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