Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Change we can believe in !

Oh yes . Fantastic news . Barak Obama as the Presidential Candidate .I have to admit to a tear as I watched the news tonight. This guy is so inspiring. An historic moment that makes you feel proud and optimistic about the power of vision and change .

And you have to contrast that with what we have on offer in the UK. We start the week with a crass policy announcement about locking up more young people for the crime of " persistent drinking " . This is an old idea that was rightly consigned to the scrap heap when it was last aired. Has evidence based policy making finally bit the dust ? What wet behind the ears policy advisor found this one in the closet when they were hunting around the Home Office one dingy evening ?

And now we have plans announced by the PM to bring more prosecutions for 16 year olds carrying knives. So we now have 2 measures in the space of 3 days guaranteed to criminalise more young people . More youth in young offender institutions; receiving a different type of education - with more hardened youth . And this is supposed to cut crime . Just listen to the children charities and learn about what works and what does not. Listen to Rob Owen of the St Giles Trust in South London who works against the odds to provide work and training to youth at risk . Send the 16 years olds with knives to him , not to the courts. Or to Paul Cavadino of NACRO and Joyce Mosley of Rainer. Great sector leaders ; members of mine who drive for change.Listen to them and give them the resources to do the real hard work that goes into rehabilitation . Giving hope to excluded and vulnerable young people.

We now have record numbers in our prisons. 82500 people in prisons when there are only 81000 prison places. And we know that means much of the rehabilitation work that should go on in prison is cut short or ended. Many of those in prison have serious mental health problems or addictions. What support do they now get ? And do we think that when they eventually emerge they will not go back to a life of crime?

The demands on the probation services to provide support for people coming out of prison are stretched to breaking point. But instead of Government looking to put more resources into rehabilitation it will be spent on more prisons . Already we lock up more people than in the rest of Europe. Many of my members work in the difficult areas of rehabilitation and support for ex offenders and we have established a special interest group to harness their views and relay them to Government. They have real experience of what works but they are not being listened to properly. We want to provide more services but are being starved of funds. Government is looking to renege on plans to tender more offender management services to the third sector unless we can stop it.

If most crime is committed by people who have already been in the criminal justice system then it ain't rocket science to work out how to actually cut crime ....or have I missed some thing?

But for me , with 20 years experience as a Magistrate in the youth courts in South London, I despair especially that the lessons about criminalising young people are not learnt . The sorry consequence of locking up vulnerable young people is clear . More crime . I have never forgotten the experience of visiting Feltham Young Offender Institution or the story of the kid we had sent there on bail who then committed suicide. I remember the letter from one kid on bail read out to us in Court who begged to be taken out of the institution he was in because he was being bullied . It was a letter of despair. I remember these people when I hear the speech of Gordon Brown on the news .

I want to see change I can believe in here. An inspiring vision . Not an agenda determined by newspaper headlines.

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