Letter: Who'll give the young fair hearings?

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The Independent Online
Sir: Your leading article ('Young devils and little angels: the facts', 24 August) is correct to identify popular misconceptions about the extent and severity of juvenile offending that have been fostered by some politicians and journalists.

In the last few years there has been a noticeable trend to greater intolerance towards children, while the more reassuring facts about their offending patterns has been drowned out by torrents of rhetoric. Persistent offenders are routinely rechristened with unhelpful nicknames like 'Ratboy' and debate, both in the tabloid press and in Parliament, relies on terms like 'lout', 'thug' and 'scum'.

For young people, law and order being on the top of the political agenda has been very dangerous. For the minor offender on the fringe of criminality, cautioning has now been curtailed, despite its success rate. For the more persistent offender, under proposed legislation, looms the grim threat of the Secure Training Order in a privately run 'teen prison', where reconviction rates are likely to be 85 per cent or more.

The exhortation by the Prime Minister to condemn a little more and understand a little less has only assisted in this. Now, however good you may be, it is often not good enough to get a fair hearing. The facts can speak for themselves, but seldom loudly enough.

Yours sincerely,


General Secretary, Association of Chief Officers of Probation

London, E1

24 August