If we’re soft on crime, don’t we all lose?

Posted: December 2nd, 2011

Three things occurred in quick succession that have caused me to radically re-evaluate my thoughts on juvenile crime. Firstly I was burgled a few months ago by what turned out to be a 16-year old lad with a “phone book thick” file of previous arrests according to my local constabulary. Despite incontrovertible evidence (his fingerprints were found inside my home), he pleaded not guilty. Apparently this is playing-the-witness-intimidation-game. In other words, if I subsequently failed to show up in court at the appointed hour to give evidence, he gets off. Case dismissed. Despite the evidence! So I requested a privacy screen and inked the date in my diary. Why the screen? I saw no reason to give him the opportunity to put a face to his crime, and I certainly didn’t want to see him: I refuse to feel vulnerable in my own hometown. Come court date, as soon as it’s known I’m present in court, he changed his plea to guilty. Sentence will be passed in a fortnight. I didn’t even step foot in the courtroom. But I lost half a day at work.

Later that same day, via twitter, I was alerted to the story of “bucket-sized” concrete blocks being dropped onto cars on the A12, causing two women in separate incidents to narrowly avoid death; albeit one is still in a “serious but stable” condition in hospital. As the inspecting police officer stated, “It’s attempted murder. If you throw a large piece of concrete off a road bridge on to a busy road, you are likely to kill someone.” Perpetrators as yet unknown. But they’re thought to be kids, and you know it’s not girls. Shockingly, very little further research uncovered several similar incidents. In 2008 two schoolboys killed a lorry driver in the same way. He was just driving to work. And in 2010, three boys aged seven to nine chucked concrete blocks and tree branches at cars, again on the A12. Amazingly no-one was killed this time, despite multiple cars having to swerve to avoid the debris.

Finally, I read about another 16-year old boy, a burglar who’d been asked to write a letter of contrition to his victim. He proffered instead a barely-coherent damnation of the homeowner’s stupidity at leaving their window open, rather than the anticipated apology. “To be honest,” he scrawled, “I’m not bothered or sorry about the fact that I burgled your house. Basicly (sic) it was your own fault anyways (sic). I’m going to run you through the dumb mistakes you made.” The letter was an initiative of the Intensive Supervision and Surveillance Programme, billed as the “most rigorous, non-custodial intervention available for young offenders”. So much for modern rehabilitation methods.

Thus, while I started my day believing all I wanted from my defendant was a repentent admission of guilt, on discovering he’s a recalcitrant career criminal already, I’ve moved rather closer to the he-needs-to-be-taught-a-lesson side of the fence. And yet imprisonment is probably not the answer is it? He’d no doubt only worship at the knee of his criminal role models and add a few more strings to his burglary bow.

In one of my very first blog posts, I suggested the mandatory return of National Service as a counter to what I perceived then as the crumbling of civility in the young. I believe this more than ever now. I vaguely recall Cameron mooting some sort of voluntary government scheme, and despair that this is just another example of him really not getting the problem. Wake-up David, the people that need this, certainly won’t “volunteer”.

More significantly, I fear it’s not just me losing patience, you only have to check the comments at the bottom of some of the links I’ve attached to see the growing general seething indignation at our seemingly soft approach to crime. Even the officer who scanned me through security at the police station suggested “boot camp” if not “chain gangs” as the only possible solution. I’m inclined to agree. I resent the loss of energy, time and resources involved in chasing a repeat offender through judicial “innocent-until-proven-guilty” loopholes. But I also have to ask, who opts to defend such a brazen upstart? At what point should an individual just take responsibility for their actions? Supposedly it’s at the age of sixteen. And I don’t think you can blame it all on the parents either, that’s the very middle-class, touchy-feely, opt-out argument. Today, I think the sooner discipline was a fixed part of the school curriculum, the better chance we might all have of seeing some change. Either that or we really will have to start shooting people ;-)

Responsibility: the ability or authority to act or decide on one’s own, without supervision

Responsibility: the social force that binds you to the courses of action demanded by that force; “we must instill a sense of duty in our children”; “every right implies a responsibility; every opportunity, an obligation; every possession, a duty.” John D.Rockefeller Jr

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