Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Desperate Times, Desperate Measures

Some Progress, Some Major Risks

The NZ National Party has come out with some interesting proposals on tackling teenage crime.  Justice Minister, Amy Adams made some announcements on the subject which will become part of the Government's strategy, if National is able to form a centre-right government post-election.

Due to the breakdown of the family as a cohesive social unit--a phenomenon long in the gestation--we now have marauding gangs of youth systematically working through communities seeking whom or what they can devour.  Most are too young to be convicted of crime and are dealt with by the proverbial wet bus ticket.  This is understandable insofar as what these juvenile offenders need is effective parenting.  And here lies the problem.  The State, irregardless of what many now fervently believe, is persistently incompetent when it comes to parenting.  Being placed in "state care" is an oxymoron.

We are told that there are a hardened group of juvenile defenders who are well known to the authorities.  They are not a large group, but they account for a good deal of the crime in our cities.  The state wants to do more than pulling the wet bus ticket out of its pocket.

Here is what Adams is proposing:

1.  Police will have powers to issue infringement notices to parents of children under 14 found walking the streets without supervision overnight, under National's youth offending policy.

2.  Judges will be able to send the most serious youth offenders to an academy at Waiouru (Army) training camp for up to a year.

3.  They will get support there to address problems like addiction or a lack of literacy and numeracy skills, helping them lead better lives while keeping the public safe.

4.  Those who fail to complete their time at the Academy will serve a commensurate adult sentence of imprisonment instead.

5.  Police will be empowered to issue instant infringement notices to parents of children under 14 walking the streets without supervision between 12 am and 5 am.

6. Breaches of court orders directed at a young person's parent would be recorded on that parent's criminal record.  [NZ Herald]

When groups of 12 year old children are wandering the neighbourhood at 2 am in the morning, replete with crowbars, screwdrivers, and hammers--with nary a supervising adult in sight--it is reasonable to conclude that the family institution is well and truly broken down (at least for some).  Moreover, when most of the children in question have cell phones and are constantly speaking to "colleagues" so that flash mobs can congeal within a matter of minutes in any location to exploit "opportunities" we find ourselves back in Victorian London, the pickpockets, and the world of Bill Sikes.

Moves to hold parents to account for these marauding youth seems very appropriate to us.  Empowering police to issue instant infringement notices to parents of unsupervised midnight prowling youth as part of holding parents to account for the care and supervision of their children is also appropriate.

A youth academy at Waiouru?  We are not nearly so confident about this proposal.  It all depends upon who runs it, how it is run, and whether the managers have a reasonable prospect of getting the malefactors to work with the programme, not against it.  If, for example, there is a steady stream of reformed convicts able to testify to the waste and destruction of their lives and who urge upon the attendees the reality of life in prison and utter empty waste of life that awaits these young offenders unless they do something about it, some good may be done.  But while such camps can be useful, they can also very quickly descend into (official) bullying, doing far more harm than good.

We remain very sceptical about this proposal--unless the authorities from the get-go give substantial indications that what will be done is well researched, the dangers and risks clearly identified, and that the programme is overtly pastoral, whilst being appropriately challenging.  It risks becoming one more bullying slugfest.  For example, will be programme major upon basic reading and writing ability?  We expect that most of the youth offenders in question will be functionally innumerate and illiterate.  Overcoming that hurdle will take lots of patient instruction, plus a willing subject.  The name youth "academy" suggests that is the intent.  But, as is so often in these programmes, between the intent and the outcome falls the shadow.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The State has told us how to rear our children. Setting boundaries like no physical smacking. The children now have nothing to be afraid of including the nagging parent threats. I watched as a young hoodie snatched up some goods in a service station this week. The attendant just looked on. I asked what they were supposed to do in these circumstances. He said that it was pointless notifying police and showing them camera footage as nothing is done. They are not permitted to "physically" apprehend the offenders. Its just another cost to customers who must ultimately pay for it. Guess we reap what we sow.