In recent years politicians of all persuasions in this country have clocked up an unenviable record for talking crap when venturing into the field of criminal justice. I suppose it's understandable as they're only seeking to gain votes, rather than contribute towards a meaningful debate and understanding of serious social issues. The latest in a long line is Nick Herbert the policing minister who is currently in Washington, giving an assembled throng of experts the benefit of his wisdom on how to tackle youth crime.
In an article in the Guardian he suggests that under Labour we acted too much like a bad parent:-
"When cautions are handed down repeatedly, fines aren't paid, or community
sentences aren't rigorous, a damaging message is sent to offenders. The state
too often acts like a bad parent, neglectful in repeatedly tolerating bad
behaviour, then inevitably harsh. Like the good parent, the state should set
clear rules and boundaries from the start, dealing with transgression swiftly
and surely to prevent escalation."
There must be consequences for offending. "The first instances of wrongdoing
– very often nuisance or antisocial behaviour – must be dealt with effectively,"
The state should not be afraid of punishment though treatment is often
needed, Herbert says as he calls for a "smart" approach to crime.
The minister writes: "Offenders with mental health issues should be
identified as early as possible. Those with substance misuse problems should be
put on courses which clean them up rather than just maintaining the habit.
"Being smart on crime does not mean being soft headed. Crime should never be
excused and offenders should not be treated as victims. Getting them back onto
the straight and narrow should be a rigorous task where we demand results, not a
misplaced act of compassion."
According to Herbert, it's all pretty straightforward - a 'smart' approach. First sign of wrongdoing - deal with it effectively. On drugs - get 'em cleaned up. Commit offences - get 'em back on the straight and narrow. From service providers - demand results, not misplaced acts of compassion.
I have to say that this level of analysis and understanding from a Minister of the Crown makes me want to weep. Of course none of this half-baked rhetoric means anything because the issues are far more complex and require skilled interventions by well-trained, professionally-qualified staff in publicly-funded Youth Justice and Probation Services.
In this instance, reliance on alternative Payment by Results contractors will merely lead to widespread fiddling of the books and huge profits for the companies involved - in fact just like A4E and others involved in the governments' Work Programme.