Community Plods

The other day I swear I saw Herr Flic walking down the street. OK the leather coast had been replaced by orange hi-vis, but the sour unrelenting face and demeanour, the purposeful walk was the same. This was on Moorland Road, walking off down towards Hyde Park. I then swear down I saw him again on Campus.  Who was this strange fellow?

He was a Local Authority Enforcement Officer, or rather I am guessing two of them, but the uniform and face were of course indistinguishable.

These pseudo police, along with their brethren the PCSOs are the champions of community cohesion in Britain Today.

I become more and more concerned by this as time goes by. Zygmunt Bauman talks of community as The Agony of Tantalus, something so desired, but so out of reach. And my question here is about how the hell this can enforce community.

These fellows were issuing parking tickets. Now parking is something that kind of gets my goat, but one of these was placing them on about 2 cars in the otherwise empty resident’s parking on Moorland Road. The other, on Campus. OK the first, maybe fair enough. The second, although a public highway, should really be the Universty’s look out. But my main issue here is this for me just highlights a little over regulation. Where was he dealing with the blocking royal park road so the buses can’t get by; the cars permanently so close to junctions that their arse end is blocking the entire pavement?

It also amuses me that it is highlighted now that Police must trust the public more. Far be it from me to comment about whether police are “more concerned with the rights of perpetrators than victims” of course, but we have all these people aimed to promote “community” dressed up like the Gestapo, and probably as unpleasant. How is that going to promote trust. Or community? I fail to see.

Community, or “Social Capital” to use Labour’s buzzword cannot be enforced. “Respect” cannot be enforced. Yes the Police do need to trust the public more, listen more. Help people to look after their areas, collect their trash and they won’t tip it, make sure there are places to park that don’t cost a days wage and they won’t park where they shouldn’t and so on…

Everybody must get stoned?

It’s happened. The Pakis have taken over. No-one is safe, all our daughters will be raped in their beds (as of course, “every rape in this country is committed by a Paki”, as we were informed by some gentleman at the Car Boot the other day), and the while our women will be stoned to death for glancing at a man and not wearing the Hijab.

Seriously, you would think this is the truth, looking at some of the reactions to the suggestion that principles of Sharia Law could have a place in the British legal system.

Yes, the informed an considered opinions of the moral entrepreneurs on the BBC comments page are at it again.

The blatantly xenophobic are one thing. But it is some others that concern me the most:

If it’s not in conflict with any existing laws, then why need it?

We mustn’t allow there to be different laws for different sections of society. Moreover, laws based on backwards religious doctrines have absolutely no place in this country. Let’s move forward for goodness sake.

Tina Cakesniffer, Manchester, United Kingdom

Recommended by 300 people.

This is a classic.

Now to be fair, I don’t know a huge amount about Sharia Law. What I do know a certain amount about is the failings of the Anglo-American Legal System.

The Law in much of the “Western” world, is not some democratic social institution. It is based on a retributive system designed to better initially the interests of the feudal lords, then later The Church, and in modernity the Capitalist system. Why does a fine go to the state, not the victim? Why (until moderately recently) did one have to swear on the bible in court…? You can take this further – Peter Fitzpatrick (1992) argues Modern Law is based on nothing more than myth.

Now whether Miss Cakesniffer’s view is simply ignorance, the racism of a genuine belief that Islam is a “backwards religious doctrine” whilst Christianity is not, or the ravings of someone who is obviously fucked up by their addiction to a drug that doesn’t exist, I do not know, but (although I could not resit the pun in the title) my point here is less to do with Sharia Law, and more to do with ignorance.

Ignorance, and the vehicle of its dissemination.

Ok, I understand that the BBC should be independent, championing free speech and personal opinion. But if I had posted the opening paragraph of this ‘blog, even as it is here – as a parody of a viewpoint I have no doubts it would be moderated for bad taste. Whilst many of the “I’m not racist but…” brigade would secretly agree of course. But in any case it would be fairly obvious that I was either racist or taking the piss. Hopefully the latter, but after a couple of personal comments on my suggestion that the issue of wearing a veil was as much a control issue as one of racism I don’t know…

But what is happening here, is someone looking like they know what they are on about, when they obviously know jack shit. And yet plenty of people “recommend” that comment.

The BBC instead of wearing its heart on its sleeve, like the Torygraph and the Mail, leaves that to its readership. Thus allowing itself to promulgate idiotic views whilst appearing the bastion on impartiality.

Cited:

Fitzpatrick, P (1992) The Mythology of Modern Law. London: Routledge.

Kids in The Bar

Oh the joys of the Youth crime problem again. Yes, day in day out, the more victimised worry that their lives will be destroyed by marauding teens, and yes, for some it is a reality. What can we do? It’s clear nothing works…

But recently, some one has come up with a novel idea, that may have an impact, in my mind…

In March 2007 Nacro announced Home Office Funding had been agreed for a project that, in the UK, could be argued as a pioneering Restorative Justice based tool for dealing with Young Offenders. Youth Juries, where the legal process that would normally be carried out in courts is undertaken by a peer group panel of young people are in existence around the world in various forms, and this is a pilot scheme in the UK/

Basically, the idea is that children will be tried by other children.

OK, some might have reservations, as will be seen below, but lets have a think folks. Based on the premise that many of us can remeber our youth, (at least I hope so), would not a little more understanding and right to manage your own social situations have gone a long way…

Rather than welcome this as an innovative idea which may provide results, many media reports have, in a clear example of “tell[ing] us what to think about crime” (Howitt 1998 p.28) presented mainly negative opinion and analysis or even debased the idea as a “crackpot initiative”. The Opposition of course are having a field day (because of course, despite the current governments lamentable failure to solve the paranoia about youth crime, they will click their fingers and do so), and of course the Magistrates’ Association have come out in a fit of professional jealousy…

But lets have a look at the comments from James Reed from the Yorkshire post, criminological mind extraordinaire…

Reed opens his account referring to schemes whereby schoolchildren are involved in the recruitment and selection of their teachers, making his viewpoint clear in the first sentence that the notion that children know best is “flawed”. He allows only two sentences to a description of the Youth Jury scheme and his interpretation of the ethos behind it – with noticeably no reference or link to the news article provoking his commentary. He highlights the cost of the scheme and then offers the inflammatory remark that if there is any validity in the concept of peer involvement in assessing how crimes of young people should be addressed:

“…then it would surely apply to all criminals if taken to its logical conclusion. Perhaps murderers, rapists and sex offenders will only be sentenced by people of a similar age and background in the future to ensure that the criminal justice system “understands” them.”

Well… Fair play to the man, he has my appreciation of vitriol. But honestly… The man’s “logic” is a little odd if you ask me. But then, of course he knows far better than those who might think that involving an (albeit hopefully “rehabilitated”) offender in a process of trying to help others may just have its value…?

Debasing the idea of Youth Juries as a “gimmick” Reed states that this is an attack on the responsibility adults hold for children, and that children are not the homogeneous group, “beyond the understanding of others” that this scheme affords them to be. This appears to be in contradiction to his preceding comment that “justice should be applied blindly and objectively”, which would only be valid if the group to which justice was applied was in fact homogeneous. Don’t you love it when people contradict themselves.

Reed shows concern is that it will apparently only be only children from “stable” backgrounds that will sit on these panels, though this contradicts information from other reports which indicate that panel members will be drawn, in part, from youth inclusion programmes. He also seems to be self-contradicting here. He claims it to be unlikely that young offenders will react to the opinion of children from a different social background, yet he states clearly later in his analysis that:

“a common feature of children drawn into a life of crime or anti-social behaviour is their falling under the malign influence of young people already leading that lifestyle”.

So children will react to the influence of bad children. But not perhaps to good children…?

This, it seems, is a major issue. Reed states his opinion that this will send the message that “children know best” thus downgrading the judgement of adults at a time that the need for family values is stressed. He seems to be a little confused about his viewpoint on the family too, as he comments to the effect that the “guidance” of adults acting as magistrates is paramount. Bearing in mind that valid concern may be expressed about State interference in family life through mechanisms such as Parenting Orders, brought in via the Crime and Disorder Act 2003 it is difficult to see how this opinion can be justified. Reed appears to express concern about attacks on adults’ responsibilities, yet also raises questions about parents’ abilities, which could take that responsibility from of the families he is concerned about. So families are also rubbish. Well, plenty are, but is the state any better…?

Reed here is stuck in the so called Dominant Framework of Childhood. This framework is characterised by four main themes: the binary division of adulthood and childhood, children’s lack of ontology, their status as proto-individuals, and the involvement of the state in their needs. Children are seen as human becomings not human beings, who require continual adult involvement (Wyness 2006). It is clear how the idea of youth juries challenge this viewpoint. Despite recent research which indicates that children, particularly boys, (who are overrepresented in the Youth Justice System) possess active involvement in informally policing their own activities (Frosh et. al. 2002 in: Featherstone 2004: 171) and the increasing understanding that they are developed social actors in their own right (Wyness 2006) the idea that children may be able to provide a rational and considered input into management of young offenders does not sit easily with their structural status as undeveloped inferiors.

This is clear in Reed’s suggestion of the need for involvement of magistrates, and in the viewpoints expressed by The Magistrates Association that “Children do not have the balance or maturity to make a judicial decision” (John Fassenfelt). This is something that (as that “one cool lesbian” according to Mij, Gill Valentine (1996) points out) adults and children will probably be in disagreement about, but a key point that must be made here concerns interpretations of children’s ability to determine right from wrong. Reed appears incredulous that children of the age of ten should be involved in peer panels. The Daily Mail makes the point that these children are only just above the age of criminal responsibility themselves, as if this is something intrinsically problematic.

Whether or not the opinion that children do not have the required maturity to take an active and productive involvement in the youth justice system is accurate is something that can only be assessed in time, when evidence based evaluations of the scheme have been produced. There is, however, a certain dichotomy of values regarding the age of children involved. The age of criminal responsibility in England and Wales is one of the lowest in Europe particularly since the revocation by the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 of the presumption of doli Incapax, which provided some protection for offenders under the age of 14, by requiring the prosecution to show that the child knew their actions were seriously wrong. It is argued that this age should be raised, and that in a league table of child well being the UK would not fare well. Full evaluation of this is beyond the scope of this discussion, but the point remains that children of ten are not seen by the critics of Peer Panels to have sufficient maturity to be involved in the management of crime yet these commentators appear to accept the State’s interpretation that ten is sufficient age to hold criminal responsibility.

It is of course equally valid to make the point that if one is to argue that the age of criminal responsibility is too low, one must accept the counter argument that their maturity may indeed not be sufficient for the purposes of this project, and it seems likely that there is no absolute in either case. However Reed’s assertion that in terms of social status children are not a homogeneous group does not sit well with his apparent belief that they can neatly be fitted into contrasting binaries of sufficient or insufficient maturity. It does not seem unreasonable that if children over the age of ten can be held accountable for criminal actions, one cannot argue that the are not mature enough to be involved in a project such as this.

It is difficult to ascertain whether it is this seemingly knee jerk reaction to the idea of allowing children some influence in their own affairs that leads to Reed’s misinterpretation, or lack of appreciation of the wider possibilities of this scheme, but there are certainly potential positive effects ignores. Interleaved with his apparent concern with the problematic idea of children’s involvement in dealing with other young offenders, Reed does make some important points regarding the current state of the criminal justice system: he addresses the valid concern that the rate of incarceration of young people, relative to population, in England and Wales is very high and that the effect this has had on reducing youth crime is minor. Reed discusses the concept of Restorative Justice, from which the idea of youth juries is derived, believing that this “should be given a chance”. What is problematic are erroneous beliefs about the nature of Restorative Justice that form a part of his position.

A definition of Restorative Justice can be given as:

“…a problem solving approach to crime which involves the parties themselves, and the community generally, in an active relationship with statutory agencies.

It is not any particular practice but a set of principles which may orientate the general practice of any agency or group in relation to crime.” (Marshall 1988)

There are, of course, other definitions that can be applied, and further discussion about what in fact Restorative Justice does entail, but the definition given above is one that is inclusive of the idea of youth juries, and can highlight problems with Reed’s interpretation of what Restorative Justice is.

An obvious issue is Reed’s contention that:

“forcing youths guilty of relatively minor offences to meet their victims and proscribing punishments that relate directly to their crimes makes sense”

It is clear that on a surface level the use of youth juries is still aimed at applying punishment, albeit in a way that allows a greater understanding of and interaction with those being punished, and so could be argued not to fit strictly into a restorative framework. Two features which are discussed in the other reports cited – the inclusion of the victim and the fact that young people seen to be at risk are offered the opportunity for involvement, are omitted from Reeds commentary. Both could be argued to be strong points of this scheme.

Inclusion of the victim is key theme in restorative practices. The idea that a crime is not a wrong against the state, but a conflict between two parties (Christie 1977) is central to a restorative framework. Though it must be noted that the victim may well not be fully involved in process under discussion so there is therefore still a power imbalance where a third party is ultimately making the decisions, the presence and involvement of the victim is an improvement of traditional procedures.

The second point is that this procedure has benefits for people other than just the victim and offender. Again, this is something fitting into a wider interpretation of Restorative Justice, but is certainly something that cannot be ignored. Whilst many “reparations” offered as “Restorative Justice”, at least those offered by other media reports, can be clearly seen to benefit a wider community these in effect are perhaps little more than community sentencing, or punishment, under a different name. Whether the children involved as jurors in the Peer Panels are those at risk of offending, or those of the stable backgrounds that Reed assumes, it is likely that their involvement will be a positive experience for them.

Lets see eh? Maybe, just maybe as a part of giving kids a bit more power, this may just help.

Cited:

Christie, N (1977) Conflicts as Property. British Journal of Criminology 17, 1: 1-15

 

Featherstone, B (2004) Family Life and Family Support: A feminist analysis. Basingstoke: Palgrave

 

Howitt, D. (1998) Crime Media and The Law. Chichester: Wiley.

Marshall, T. F. (1998) Restorative justive: an overview. Extract from G. Johnstone (ed.) (2003) A Restorative Justice Reader. Cullompton: Willan.

 

Valentine G (1996) “Oh yes I can.” “Oh no you can’t”: Children and Parents understandings of Kids’ competence to negotiate public space safely. Antipode 29, 1, 65-89

Wyness, M (2006) Childhood and Society- An introduction to the Sociology of Childhood. Bastingstoke: Palgrave.