Only our schools will reduce youth crimeFebruary 24, 2009 at 10:21 pm | Posted in British Politics, Crime, Education | 2 Comments
I don’t want to dwell for too long on the many shades of wrong in Chris Grayling’s big speech – not least because you’ve probably read septicisle’s strong critique and nodded/grimaced in all the right places – but I do think there are aspects of his fondness for child curfews which need addressing.
First, we should remember that the child curfew already has a long and undistinguished history as a tool for cutting crime. In 1998, Labour made it possible for courts & councils to impose curfews on children under the age of 10, but just a year later it was clear the measures were a flop and even Jack Straw admitted it was a mistake. Undeterred by the failure and apparently oblivious to all the voices who insisted it was a bad policy, the government extended the measures in 2001, this time including children up to the age of 15. They returned again in 2008 as the panic over gun crime saw Labour scrambling for more tough-sounding measures to stuff in its Youth Crime Action Plan. So Grayling’s idea would be – by my count – the fourth attempt by a government to use curfews as an effective crime deterrant. There’s a word for people who try the same thing over and over again, but expect a different result.
The child curfew always strikes me as the modern day equivalent of the ‘clip ’round the ear’; an easy newsbite which is eulogised as a means of keeping the streets safe and disciplining tearaway teens (in spite of evidence to the contrary) but completely ignorant of the economic, emotional and educational aspects which underlies their behaviour. It’s true that there are kids in this country who are troubled and who make trouble for the rest of us. Their numbers are exaggerated – even amongst working class children – but they do exist, they’re difficult to reason with and even harder to control. But one thing Early Intervention has found is that at-risk children start exhibiting signs of being in trouble when they’re in primary school, and if those warning signs aren’t detected and treated as easly as possible, then disruptive and ‘anti-social’ behaviour is much more likely later on in life. Your ability to alter a child’s behaviour and life chances at age 5 or 6 is much greater than at 14 or 15.
So if you want to be seen as serious about reducing youth crime, stop bringing out the Shadow Home Secretary to announce a few feeble, second-hand measures. Instead, bring us a Shadow Education Secretary to explain how he’ll rig the school system so that kids who exhibit signs of trouble can get the kind of help which might save them.