Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Excuses For the Riots Debunked

Since the riots have subsided the excuse makers have been busy trying to find justification for the feral mobs that burned working and middle class families out of their homes as well as laying destruction to local businesses and people's workplaces. Wednesday's Guardian gives a few of them a platform in which to try and rationalise mob rule.

Last Thursday's edition of Young Voters Question Time on BBC 4, also revealed a disturbing antipathy to the concept of law and order by members of the audience and a palpable hatred for the police.Rudeness and an inability to converse and share ideas in a diplomatic manner were also on display in that the majority of these young people (between 18-35) wouldn't allow each other to speak or finish a sentence. Indeed, the presenter, Richard Bacon, had a hard time trying to facilitate discussion due to the lack of manners and etiquette needed to conduct a civilised debate. Myths and a multitude of excuses were put foward by members of the audience and have since been repeated by many commentators in the media. I will attempt to dispel a few of them here.

1)The killing of  Mr. Duggan by the police

How can stealing a wide screen TV from Currys or thieving a shiny new tracksuit or burning your neighbour's flat down be interpreted as a justifiable expression of grief and anger over the death of a stranger? The logical extension of this form of reasoning would allow anyone who felt aggrieved by any kind of violence to go out on an orgy of looting and destruction as a means of releasing anger and frustration. It would be like hearing that an elderly woman you never knew had her house broken in to and then responding to the news by torching your local family run corner shop. And as a local community worker observed on the program, where was the public display of anger at the twenty young people murdered in his borough in London by other young people over the past year?

2) Poverty and Inequality

Whilst I abhor the inequality that exists in the UK as a result of decades of neo-liberalism and indeed am a victim of it myself, it doesnt naturally follow on that this gives me a reason to loot shops, commit acts of violence and terrorise my community. The poverty that exists in the UK is of a relative kind. The welfare state in Britain provides the underclass with housing, benefits, education and a health service, all free of charge and the envy of sub-saharran Africa. I am not saying they have an ideal life, but their basic needs and those of their children are met. Whilst working in Supported Housing with today's poor I observed how many of them were so well fed they were obese and that they had money to spend on cheap alcohol and recreational drugs. The majority of them also possessed luxury electronic goods such as laptops, playstations and the newest in mobile phones. They may be poor compared to the folks that live in the mansion on the hill, but they are wealthier than the monarchs of medieval Europe. The grinding abject poverty that existed in Britain during the ninteen thirties (see Orwell's The Road to Wigan Pier) and that of the post war rationing period never led to marauding gangs of unsocialised teenagers ransacking their communities. The reason being that in those decades there was no uncivilised underclass and although society was too rigid and authoritarian we have now gone to the other extreme. The working classes of this earlier epoch had a sense of backbone and a collective set of norms to which they adhered and a Labour party that promoted collective values. Cultural relativism and the doctrine of non-judgmentalism that pervade the public sector along with the enchantment with all things materialistic thanks to the triumph of neo-liberalism have eroded the responsibility of  some young people to act in a civilised manner with respect and consideration for others.

3)Unemployment

Several young rioters being interviewed on Sky News claimed that because they couldnt get work they were taking revenge on the local businesses and high street chain stores that had overlooked their job applications. As recipients of the already generous welfare state and as products of a comprehensive education system that eschews the concept of personal responsibility by labelling badly behaved children with non-existent psycholgical conditions such as ADHD, ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder) and CD (Conduct Disorder) these young rioters have been imbued with the notion that their behaviour is not their fault and that it is the responsibility of the state to cater to their every whim. They will have been indulged in this fallacy by every agency of the state they will have come in to contact with be it their schools, social services, supported housing sector, youth offending service, youth workers, Connexions and so on.  Whilst I believe strongly in the welfare state I believe that every citizen has reciprocal rights and duties towards her or his fellow citizens which precludes burning peoples homes and places of work to the ground. The UK's youth unemployment rate runs at around twenty percent and Spain's is at forty percent. The reason the Spanish youth are not rioting is that they have strong communities. Above all though their police force wouldn't spend days debating with politicians whether using water cannon was an infringement the human rights of criminals who were blighting the lives of working class communities.

4)Boredom

A middle class girl in the audience on the aforementioned BBC programme claimed that as young people are so bored what with being unemployed and not having enough youth clubs to go to they took to the streets out of frustration with the dullness and ennui of their existence. I like to call this the 'Throwing One's Toys Out of the Pram' theory. In other words, if I am not indulged and provided with entertainment and leisure by others I will terrorise my community and the lives of my neighbours. This excuse is actually insulting to the majority of the sullen, withdrawn and bored teenagers who don't resort to arsonry or throwing molotov cocktails at the police just to kill some time. I spent a large proportion of my teenage years rigid with boredom but I never once thought I would alleviate the monotony of my existence by setting fire to a school or stabbing one of my friends or a passer by as we spent hours stupified with disaffection up alleyways and on street corners. A few years ago, I used to volunteer at a Youth Club which provided the youth in the area with meaningful activities and somewhere to socialise. However, it was taken over by young hoodlums who disobeyed the rules and bullied and victimised their well behaved peers. When I challenged them I had a bottle thrown at me and a bin thrown over my head. As is usual I got no support from the other staff as they were afraid of the thugs and instead they tried to reason with them which didn't work. I almost responded Clint Eastwood style to this attack, but in the interests of keeping my job in the school next door I restrained myself. We had to close the Youth Club for several months as the manager couldnt control the rough element that kept turning up and the police and local people complained about an increase in anti-social behaviour in the area on the nights it was open. It is a glib prouncement to asssume that the building of a Youth Club will eradicate anti-social behaviour and boredom is a pathetic excuse for violence and destruction.

To end on a positive note, there was one young black man in the audience on Young Voter's Question Time who stated that it was the lack of respect for other people and their own communities that were the cause of the riots. He too was unemployed and relatively poor he stated, as were his friends, but at the end of the day he remarked that his mother and other people in his community had instilled in him with respect for others and his fellow human beings. This is the challenge that Britain must now rise to and that is instilling a common value system based on respect for others and the rule of law in our young people. This will involve a complete reversal in a lot of the social policy and a re-imagining of the welfare state where individuals are encouraged to not see themselves as victims and passive recipients but as citizens with both rights and concomitant responsibilities towards members of your community.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Riot Talk in Monotone on Radio 5

I was on BBC Radio 5 Live with Shelagh Fogarty yesterday talking about the riots in my monotone voice with a clued up lady from Manchester. I wish they had given me an hour after my rant to play some seventies soul and jazz to soothe my mind after talking about social breakdown and the urban underclass. Click on the show for the 10th August it's roughly an hour in to the programme. I am in the Mail tomorrow, Friday the 12th, for those of you who are interested.

Link to Radio

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

The Riots in London are a Culmination of Decades of Failed Social Policies

The underclass are rising up. No longer content with simply burglaring and mugging the decent law abiding working classes that have the misfortune to dwell amongst them, they have now decided to torch and terrorise the very communities they come from. What we are witnessing in London and in other cities across Britain at the moment is an attack upon the decent and law abiding citizenry of the country. Their places of work have been attacked, looted and even burned down. Opportunisitic burglaries have occured and violent attacks upon the police and innocent individuals are widespread. Fear is endemic and people are anticipating a fourth night of chaos and disorder. The nation of Britain is being brought to its knees by a festering amoral underclass that has been fostered by decades of failed social policies in the spheres of education, criminal justice, social services and by a well intentioned and necessary welfare state that has unwittingly produced an attitude amongst some young people that being a citizen of a country is all about what you can get without ever considering what you are contributing to the community that you come from.

The rightful abandonment of excessively harsh discipline only to swing to the extreme of having no discipline in schools along with the namby-pamby non-judgementalism that pervades social services and the youth offending service are all contributory factors to the chaos on our streets. The Police who purportedly exist to protect the masses of law abiding working communities from criminal elements and who exist to guard the peace are stymied in their efficacy by a political class that eschews robust policing when it is needed. This morning on Sky News, the Home Secretary, Theresa May, dismissed the option of using water cannon when she said: "The way we police in Britain is not through use of water cannon...the way we police in Britain is through consent of communities." I am sure if she consulted the vast majority of people on this island she would discover that very few people would be too concerned about a few thousand drenched tracksuits if it meant a return of law and order and an absence of terror within communities. She then went on to assure us that, "people will start to see the consequences of their actions".

Now, just what will these consequences be you may ask? Well, for those over eighteen whatever custodial sentences they do receive, if any, they will no doubt serve just a fraction of their sentences as is common for most criminals in the UK. However, in what will clearly be a perversion of justice, those rioters under eighteen will be treated as if they too are the victims of the very crimes they have commited, as this is the ethos at the heart of the youth justice system. I know this from having worked alongside and in the Youth Offending Service. Within a few weeks many of these rioters that you are now watching loot, burn and terrorise on a twenty four news channel will be on an Intensive Surveillance and Supervision Programme, where they will spend the majority of their 'sentence' being escorted to gyms, adventure centres, DJ courses and having their lunches bought and paid for and they will even be given the bus fares to attend their 'punishment'. There will be a minimum of community work as part of their ISSP and in some parts of the country the Youth Offending Service will fail to implement this part of the ISSP. I know this will occur because I have seen it first hand. Another part of their ISSP will involve them sitting in on classroom based sessions where staff will ask them what feelings they were experiencing prior to setting their community alight and how best they could channel those feelings in the future. We may even get them to do some 'poster work', as I have heard it referred to, where they will draw and colour in examples of criminal behaviour just in case they were not aware that torching homes in their communities as well peoples place  of employment  and throwing masonry at innocent passers by as well as the police, fire brigade were indeed criminal acts. When this is the system charged with preventing youth crime is at any wonder we have such high rates of recidivism amongst the more serious of young criminals? Many of the rioters you see on the streets will have been through this sytem. They know there are no real consequences for their actions and thus they behave in the manner we are now viewing.

One thing is clear to me about these riots that set them apart from the race riots of the eighties, or those of the late sixties/early seventies in the aftermath of state suppression of civil rights marches in Northern Ireland and it is that these disturbances are not political in nature, or as a result of one ethnic group feeling rightfully disenfranchised and discriminated by the police. This is a rainbow coalition of the underclass, all shades and colours are present on the streets. If it was political in nature the main targets of the rioters would be the state and whilst the police are being attacked the perpetrators are more concerned with acquiring the contents of high street shops. These riots are purely criminal and materialistic in nature and it is the state and its failed social policies along with the pervading culture of selfishness as a result of neo-liberalism that have bred the savage and feral mentality of the perpetrators. It is no surprise that our police force has proved ineffective in protecting working and middle class communities when wetting criminals and louts is seen as a step too close to draconian policing? Is at any wonder we fear another night of chaos?

Thursday, 21 July 2011

He Don't Need No Education

A few months ago a female colleague at the Youth Offending Service, Chrissy, asked me to sit in with her and a young male offender of seventeen. She hoped I could be a positive male role model in getting him to do something constructive with his time rather than burgle his neighbours.

"Hi I'm Winston. You must be Noel. Nice to meet you."

Chrissy then asked him what had he been doing since she last saw him several weeks ago.

"I've been looking for jobs but I'm not having any luck."

Having read his file and knowing he was completely illiterate I deduced that luck wasn't really the issue here. I felt that the cart wasn't so much before the horse as completely without one. Anyway, how do you look for work when you can't read? I think Noel was telling us what he thought we might want to hear.

"Noel, in the interests of helping you in the long run, I am going to be blunt with you. There is no point in you seeking work until you learn to read. There's not a job out there these days that will not require you to be literate. To even lug rubble around a building site requires you to do a health and safety course which you will need to be able to read to pass."

"I'll be fine. I'm not doing any courses or college. I hate classrooms and teachers. I'll get work eventually. My Uncle says he has six weeks cash in hand work with him as a gardening assistant in a few months."

"Noel, that's not a secure job its some black market work. There's no future in that for you. If its an issue of being embarrassed in a group we can arrange one to one literacy lessons for you."

"Am not interested. I'll get a job in the end my way. I don't want to talk about this any longer. Are we nearly finished here I've got to be off. I've got stuff to do."

Chrissy arranged his next appointment and dismissed him.

"I've given up with him. He's been in and out of here for a few years now for various offences and despite arranging courses for him and even one to one tuition he just wont engage. He'll turn up for meetings here to prevent being breached, but he refuses to do anything constructive. I've even had work experience arranged for him and they let him go due to turning up late all the time."

We both head back to our respective offices utterly frustrated. Later on I have a discussion with another Youth Offending Officer who informs me that as part of their orders many Young Offenders are required to engage in education, but that some officers wont breach them for failing to attend a course in that they believe it is against their human rights to coerce them in to education. It's nice to know that educated middle class left wing idealists are defending the rights of disadvantaged young people to remain ignorant and disempowered.

For those of you who are interested I've been interviewed here by the Manchester Evening News

Monday, 13 June 2011

It's Just Like Prison

A few weeks ago I accompanied an assortment of teenage rogues to a youth club where we punished them by means of video games, snooker, take away food and supervising them in a music studio where they had access to records that extoled the virtues of misogyny, gangsterism and drug abuse. However, there was no structure to the activities and even in the DJ studio they were left to their own devices with no one guiding them in how to become gangster DJs. In fact, even if the senior youth offending worker who sat their looking in to space and playing on his mobile phone had wanted to instruct them in scratch mixing he couldn't have done so as some other scallywags had stolen the needles from the turntables. So what ensued instead was that the young lads attempted to play instruments without having any knowledge or skill of how to do so. I had to sit there for an hour as several of them banged on drums frantically and incessantly without any rhythm and a few others made several keyboards emit noises akin to that of a cat being strangled. Thankfully, just before my ears started to bleed we broke for lunch.

In the afternoon, I supervised a few of them as they played on a Wi console and a playstation. One of the lads, 17, who was on the Intensive Supervision and Surveillance Programme (ISSP) for his second time, told me he had no remorse for the students and other innocent young people whom he had violently mugged as they were only 'muppets'. I asked him how he would feel were he violently mugged by a stranger to which he replied "If any c**t did that to me I'd stab them." So I asked him, "Well can you see how that would also be a horrific experience for your victims?", to which he replied, " they were soft shits that deserved it." He then went on to complain and swear aggressively as he did so, whilst he played a video game, that being on the ISSP and having to come to this youth club was just like prison, (he had been in custody) in that he was having his freedom taken away from him by being made go somewhere he didnt want to. I responded to him in this manner.

"I suppose you are right it is just like the youth prison you have been to recently in that in there you also have access to entertainment in your room such as TVs and video game consoles. However, in many countries in the world their youth detention centres are a lot tougher and the emphasis is on punishment, discipline and order."

"Whatever. I'm bored now are we nearly finished here today?" he responded insouciantly.

Ten minutes later we drove him back to the Residential Care Home where he lived as he had completed another succesful day on the road to rehabilitation as well as having paid another hefty portion of his dues to society.

If you live in the south I have been interviewed in the Big Issue there. Here is a link to the article or alternatively buy a copy of this worthy and dignified magazine.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Imparting Poetic Delusions

A few weeks ago at our local Youth Offending Office we hired an ex-offender to read poetry to our assorted crew of delinquents on the Intensive Surveillance and Supervision Programme (ISSP) before we took them out in the afternoon to play basketball. The reasoning behind this initiative was well intentioned. Here was an ex-convict who whilst in prison had learned to read and write and discovered a talent for poetry and creative writing. Now empowered, he wanted to give something back. And so here he was on a miserable Monday morning hoping to inspire our young offenders to swap the stanley knife for the pen, that said, many of them would still stab you with the pen given half the chance.

Indeed our poet lived up to the awards he had won. His poetry was energetic, lively and raw just like his life story. He was a charming scouser from the wrong side of the tracks and you couldn't but be inspired by the manner in which he had turned his life around and the teenagers warmed to him even though initially they thought he was a bit unusual.

However, whilst he was good at making words rhyme and injecting his scouserly wit in to conversation, at imparting life skills he was hopeless. He told the young lads present that spelling and grammar were not important at all and not to worry about it. All I could do was sit there and nod my head in exasperation. Surely for every hand written CV and application form they send out for a job they will need to adhere to standard English? However, this was not going to be an issue I learned in that every young criminal in the room possessed the combined poetic skills of Yeats, Byron and Wordsworth, according to this jovial Liverpudlian, and what's more they could become very wealthy in the process. The fact that at least half of them were either completely or semi-literate didn't seem to be an issue.

"So how much do you make a day?" asked one young prolific burglar.

"I get a few hundred quid for just coming here talking to you today to show you there is another way of life. I drive a nice car and wear the best of clothes and have most of the day to myself and all because I learned to read and write. You can earn good money giving talks to schools and in detention centres and to the Youth Offending Service. If you grasp at the chance to improve your reading skills you all can have a life like mine if you want it. I believe in you lads you just need to believe in yourselves. Words can set you free. You can have a life like mine if you work hard for it. I know inside everyone of you is a story you can tell with words. If you work for it you can be a writer or poet like me."

I must admit it was great rhetoric and I really liked the guy, but he was talking gobbledegook. For a start there is a limited demand for scouser poets that spell badly and believe that grammar is irrelevant. Im pretty sure he has cornered the market there.

I wanted to stand up and scream:

"Poetry and creative writing are lovely hobbies but you should learn to read and write because you will all need at least the basic level to even get a job washing dishes in a pub nowadays. You will not all be award winning poets like our nice friend here. He is one of the lucky ones. The country is full of talented creative types be they poets, actors and writers and most of them haven't a pot to piss in never mind awards hanging off the walls of their damp bedsits. So learn to read and write for its own sake and to improve your chances of even getting a job stacking shelves in Tesco where you will be competing with graduates with English degrees. If you take pleasure in writing poems about how you used to enjoy robbing from pensioners but nowadays prefer to spend your time lying in meadows writing sonnets then thats great but please dont believe a word this man tells you about it affording you the material comfort he has and if you don't believe me go home tonight and put the word poet in to the search engine on at least five or six jobsearch sites."

Instead of saying this I just sat there. My sentiments would not have been welcomed as I've said before injections of common sense are seldom welcomed in the youth dependency sector.

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Training for Catburglars

A few times now I have accompanied some prolific young offenders on the Intensive Supervision and Support Program to one of their daily leisure activities at an indoor rock climbing facility. If leisure is really an antidote to crime then surely instead of calling for more prisons to be built we should be lobbying politicians to construct amusement parks within the slum estates that bedevil almost all of our urban centres.

Anyway, we got to the indoor rock climbing centre in a disused church and within twenty minutes some of the most prolific burglars in the area were being instructed by middle class graduate types on how to scale and absail from vertical slopes.The young lads took to it with gusto; perhaps they thought there was a plasma TV or some jewellery on the other side of the wall. After all, thats the result of most of their previous climbing escapades. However, for me I was somewhat bewildered that here we were teaching burglars how to climb walls. I turned to a senior member of staff and asked her could she see what was wrong with this activity.

"Think about it Jane? Surely you can see what is wrong with what we are doing here apart from the fact they are being rewarded for repeatedly committing serious offences?"

"No Winston I don't, really I don't, tell me so why don't you?"

"Well, we dont teach them how to hot wire cars now do we or pick locks. Although quite a few of them are well versed in the former."

"I still dont get you Winston."

"It's quite simple really if you think about it. Burglars tend to climb up walls and scale heights when breaking in to places. We are helping them become more nimble and efficient. I wouldnt be surprised if there are a spate of cat burglaries in the area soon. In effect, we are giving them the neccessary skills for catburglary."

Jane erupted in laughter.

"You are hilarious Winston. I never would have seen it like that I really wouldn't have."

Of course Jane wouldn't have seen it like that.
In the words of the American Politician and Novelist Upton Sinclair: "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his job depends on not understanding it."

In my next installment of tales from the Offensive Youth Service we bring our collection of loveable and unloveable rogues to a youth club where we imprison them against their will (as one 17 year old violent mugger put it whilst playing a video game) and use the reknowned punishment techniques of snooker and video games for the day and have take away food delivered to them. Afterwards we drive them home and prepare for indoor football and squash the next day.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

The Offensive Youth Service

Lately, I have been working with the Offensive Youth Service or as they prefer to call themselves the Youth Offending Service. One of my duties is to escort male teenagers on Intensive Supervision and Support Programmes on their daily outings to gyms, boxing clubs, tennis courts, indoor football centres and to various other recreational activities. The ISSP is the most severe 'punishment' a young offender can receive prior to being detained in a young offenders institute. Some of our young offenders have been released from custody early on the provision they attend ISSP. Despite it consisting of merely attending a centre where you get driven to various sporting and recreational activities and have lunch provided many of them still moan incessantly about how hard done they are for having to attend.

To be fair though, I have encountered a few lads so far who have learned from their mistakes and truly want to turn over a new leaf, if only they were all like this. However, quite a few of our offenders have been on ISSP before, some more than once, and some of those who have been in custoday boast to the others how they found doing time easy as they had TVS and video games consoles in their rooms which I know to be true. Whilst I dont advocate hanging these lads off the walls in shackles I do balk at the idea that they should find custody easy and I wonder how their victims would feel knowing they spend a lot of their day watching TV and playing Grand Theft Auto. Afterall most of our offenders are prolific burglars and some are violent muggers. I do believe that the almost total absence of order and discipline within the Youth Justice System is the reason that re-offending rates are so high and why young offenders who have done time boast about it as a badge of honour. Several have even stated they like it in custody and wouldnt mind going back.

The majority of the staff that I have met so far in the Youth Justice System are box ticking bureaucrats who seem to swallow whole heartedly the mantra that all youth offending can be solved by asking people how they feel and asking them to make posters stating that crime is bad. Seriously, I have some astonishing stories that Ill post soon.

Meanwhile I was in the Daily Mail again the other day for those of you who missed it.

Thursday, 31 March 2011

Generation F




Within the next two weeks my book Generation F will be available in all good bookshops and will also be available as an e-book on Amazon.co.uk

It contains lots of material that I haven't published on the blog. A few friends said they found the snippets I showed them shocking and incredulous. There was a time I would have responded to its contents in a similar manner, but now I expect nothing short of insanity in the various sections of the youth sector in which I have worked.

I will shortly have some revelatory tales from another part of the state youth sector that I have been working in recently to atone for my sins in a previous incarnation.

Friday, 11 March 2011

More Pointless Pieces of Paper part 2

When Gerry, the project manager, was informed of Jim’s attempted assault and verbal abuse of an elderly woman he decided to issue Jim with one week’s notice to vacate the premises. I would have also liked to have issued him with a size ten boot up the arse, but I bet if I checked with the policy department it would not be in line with our “anti-oppressive” policy. Gerry summoned Jim to the office and asked him to explain his actions of the previous day. Needless to say Jim denied all knowledge of the incident, so we showed him the video evidence of his thuggery. Gerry then handed him written notice, which he was unable to read, that he had one week with which to vacate the premises. Jim now having nothing to lose felt no need to contain or regulate his behaviour to any degree, not that he had much previous success in this regards in the first place. He erupted in a tirade of verbal abuse infused with self pity and an attempt at emotional blackmail.

“You fucking bastards, you have no idea how hard it is for me. My bloody parents don’t want me either. If Im kicked out of here Im going to kill myself.”

Well Jim I have no idea of how hard it is being you, but if it’s anything like working with you I can imagine it’s no picnic. The sad and unfortunate thing is we could help young men like Jim if we were able to use discipline and authority to put them on the right path.

Neither myself or Gerry responded to Jim’s attempt at emotional blackmail. Just another idle threat from the idle minded as far as I was concerned. Even if I thought he were to do it I would still want him evicted. Suicide would be his choice and not our fault. Threats of his imminent demise having not rescinded his eviction required more direct and immediate efforts to get what he wanted. He continued to shout and swear at us and at several points raised his mobile phone above his head as if to throw it at me or Gerry. Thankfully, instead of lashing out at us, he began to repeatedly punch himself very hard in the face. And they say corporal punishment doesn’t work? Who knows? Perhaps this lad needed some of it so bad and having never had it in a more civilized and restrained manner when he needed it, now in his adult years he is willing to inflict it on himself. I hope one or two of those punches he directed at himself is in retribution for his abuse of that old woman. Jim’s losing battle with his own fists led Gerry to offer a glimmer of hope to the young hooded weasel.

“Well Jim, you can always appeal my decision, as is your right, to the Area Business Manager. In fact, she will be here later today and if you get your Support Worker to help you write the letter of appeal she might rescind your eviction and put you back on the ABC.”

Here we go again I thought. Jim’s support worker, Neil, a nice kind soul, who tends to give everyone the benefit of the doubt was about to once again be complicit in making excuses for Jim’s loutish behaviour. Although an ignorant semi-literate rogue, Jim knew exactly the kinds of buzz words to drop in his appeal letter. He instructed his secretary, I mean support worker, to write that due to his ‘drug problem’ he had ‘anger management’ problems and that he had been told he would have counselling arranged to help him with these issues and that as it wasn’t forthcoming he continued to have problems with his behaviour. In other words, his anti-social behaviour was not his own fault, but that of the project for not having acquired him the right kind of support. In fact, Jim had actually never proactively sought counselling, but had merely agreed to it if it were arranged for him as he used his weed habit as an excuse for why he never paid the extra rent of ten pounds from his Jobseeker's Allowance not covered by housing benefit. He agreed because he knew that as part of the conditions of his accommodation he is required to engage with support. In other words, he was merely telling us what he thought we wanted to hear to ensure he could have a roof over his head to take drugs in the evening.Neil seemed to concur with Jim’s abdication of personal responsibility as he explained to me.

“Well, he has a point we did offer to get him counselling months ago in relation to his drug use and anger management issues and then failed to get it sorted for him,” Neil stated.

“Well, in the first instance we suggested that to him he never sought it. Did he ask about it again or has he only brought it up now that he is faced with consequences for his actions? Surely if it was something he wanted sorted he would have asked about it since? Instead he has continually taken drugs on a daily basis and has regularly been aggressive in his dealing with staff and his peers,” I pointed out.

“No, he never got back to us again about it now that you mention it,” perhaps Neil was beginning to see the true picture.

“This is how I see it, he’s terrified of getting kicked out and is telling us exactly what he thinks we want to hear in order to get us off his back. His anger and aggressive outbursts are not due to his cannabis habit, but due to the fact that he is a lout and has never suffered serious consequences for aggressive behaviour. Anyone, who knows anything about cannabis, knows that it subdues and chills people out and doesn’t fuel aggression,” I reply.

All of a sudden, Jim’s fellow recipient of an ABC and partner in roguery, Kyle, strolls in to the office without knocking to offer his opinion on his friend’s hopefully imminent eviction.

“I hear you lot are evicting Jim? You are all a bunch of cunts! I want a complaint form.”

As it’s his right, obviously, Gerry gets him one and hands it to him and informs him of the Area Business Manager’s address to post it to. I challenge Gerry for not having dealt with allowing both himself and his staff to be verbally abused in such a way.

“Gerry, one of the clauses of Kyle’s ABC that you signed is that he must not be verbally abusive to any members of staff and that to do so will lead to notice. Therefore, he should now be getting marching orders.”

“If we give Kyle an eviction notice it will only exacerbate problems with the other residents who will think it harsh and are already being quite boisterous in their objection to Jim’s eviction. Besides Kyle wasn’t threatening in his verbal abuse,” responded Gerry.

I didn’t know that verbal abuse was only considered verbal abuse when imbued with violent undertones. So is it ok for me to be called a c*nt by someone I help and support as long as they are not holding a knife or the leg of a chair when they are doing it?

“What’s the point then in having ABCs if we don’t back them up with the consequences stated within them? They are just meaningless pieces of paper. Besides, it’s not fair or consistent to give Jim notice for violating his ABC and ignore Kyle’s transgression for the sake of expediency. I say we make sacrificial lambs of Kyle and Jim and get rid of them so as to send out the message that we will not tolerate any kind of verbal abuse or threatening behaviour towards staff, fellow residents or in the neighbourhood. Their example will be a deterrent to the others and act as a bulwark against any such future behaviour. We need to be tough to protect the decent residents and staff against anti-social behaviour.”

Gerry heedlessly dismisses my suggestion that he be consistent in carrying out his stated consequences for violation of the ABCs. He has became slightly irate with me and changed the subject. The voice of reason and common sense is often dealt with by ignoring or suppressing it or not offering a counter argument. Why? Well the idealistic, ultra-liberal approach to anti-social behaviour is the one currently espoused by policy makers and as we can see all around us in the wider society it is failing.

The Area Business Manager came and heard Jim’s appeal and as I suspected her heart bled and she rescinded his notice when she read the eloquent letter of appeal written by his Support Worker documenting how both drugs and anger are issues for Jim causing him problems in his life and how he now wishes to have support to deal with them. The people that work with Jim talk to him as if his heavy drug use and anger were forces outside of himself as opposed to behaviours over which he has some choice in whether he indulges in or not. Anyway, the ABM gave him a stay of execution. His ABC was updated and a new clause stated that a counsellor would be arranged for him to help him with his drug and anger problems. A week later Jim had his first session with the counsellor, at the project of course, we couldn’t expect Jim to make his way to the counselling centre only a twenty minute walk away. We also had to wake him to remind him the counsellor had arrived. The session was so successful that to celebrate afterwards Jim went out and got very stoned as I could tell from the stink of skunk weed off his clothes and breath when he returned.

A week later, I had Jim down in the office to talk to him about sneaking in several teenage girls in to the building after visiting hours. He could have booked one of them in as an overnight guest, but then that would have been doing things by the book, an alien concept to Jim. As usual, and despite now being counseled for his anger problems, he was defensive, stubborn and argumentative as I explained to him that he had broken the house rules whilst still on an ABC which could lead to immediate eviction. As he has heard this several times before whilst on his previous ABC and before that his final warning, Jim failed to be perturbed by the threat of eviction. His recent experiences having led him to believe that we say one thing and do another.

Whilst he was in the office, Terry reminded him that he was behind in his rent repayment plan. Jim had been failing to pay thirty pounds every two weeks from the ironically entitled Job Seeker’s allowance of which he was in receipt. Jim is more of a cannabis and ketamine seeker than a pursuer of employment. Jim has to pay ten pound and ten pence a week from this benefit towards his rent. As he is in arrears of over three hundred pounds due to the purchase of illicit substances a repayment plan was drawn up several months ago. Why does he need a plan to pay rent? Does anyone in the real world plan the paying of bills? Despite the plan and several personal assistants to remind him of the plan, Jim didn’t keep to the plan as he had a plan to get off his head that clashed with the plan to pay his rent. Terry’s reminding him that spiraling arrears and non-payment of his share of the rent will eventually lead to eviction evoked indignation in Jim as opposed to self reflection.

“It’s not fair, having to pay that thirty pounds for rent that only leaves me with seventy quid to have a life for the rest of the two weeks.”

‘To have a life’ as Jim sees it, is much different from the many varied but accepted standards of what a life of quality should consist.

“What do you mean by ‘have a life’ Jim?”

“Well, I want to go out with my mates and stuff. Like next weekend I’m going out to a rave with my mates and I’ll need lots of money for that as I’m going to get off my head.”

‘Stuff’ is Jim’s euphemism for stealing, robbing, assault, verbal abuse, threats and all manner of anti-social behaviour just in case you were confused and thought it meant perhaps learning to read properly or volunteering in the community.

“That’s not really part of the support we are meant to give you by helping you budget for partying (although a rookie support worker had done a budget plan with Jim where 20 quid a week was allocated towards cannabis). Mainly, we are here to help you become independent in managing with day to day life skills and paying your rent is the top of that list. Continue not to pay it and you will be evicted.”

“For fuck sakes, between paying rent and court fines you lot would be happy for me to be stuck up in my room day and night with nothing to do and no life,” barked Jim.

“Your recreational and chemical pursuits are of no concern of mine Jim. Im merely here to support you maintain accommodation access benefits as well as educational or employment opportunities.”

I refrained from telling him that the only place I’d be happy with Jim being stuck was behind bars or in a dundgeon with Joseph Fritzel, or with his head and hands in the stocks and his bare arse exposed to the elements as well as to the footwear of all those decent people he has aggrieved. I’d be at the top of that queue with a size ten winkle picker. You may dismiss this approach as medieval but I would bet any money it would work a lot better than all the ABCs and counselors which have so far failed to eliminate Jim’s anti-social behaviour.

Sunday, 27 February 2011

More Pointless Pieces of Paper part 1

For every action there is a corresponding form seems to be the premise upon which many aspects of the public sector are founded. In the world of Supported Housing we deal with anti-social behaviour not by means of any real immediate consequences, but in the written form where as well as threatening you with future consequences we also advise you of your right to object, contest and appeal to the written warning or eviction notice you have received. Needless to say our residents of a problematic disposition are quick to exercise their rights rather than reflect on the nature of the behaviour that led to them being officially reprimanded.

I’m being a little bit disingenuous in stating that there are never any real consequences in Supported Housing. In the case of actual violent outbursts most people are evicted within twenty four hours notice to one week depending on the severity of the violence. The residents are aware of this and have seen evictions take place for those that have transgressed in such a manner. Needless to say the knowledge of an immediate consequence for this kind of behaviour acts as a deterrent, well it does so with most residents. That is why I advocate actual consequences for other forms of anti-social behaviour as opposed to pieces of paper. Negative consequences that directly and immediately affect the residents work, pieces of paper do not.

I’ve been working away from my usual Project for a couple of weeks in one of our Housing Association’s sister projects where the residents tend to be even more challenging than those in my usual base. Currently in this project there are two residents on Acceptable Behaviour Contracts. They have received the maximum number of written warnings they can receive and the ABC is a last attempt at reforming their behaviour. Besides written warnings these residents have also had countless unofficial verbal warnings for various infringements such as drug use on the premises, loud and disruptive conduct, physical violence, vandalism and being abusive to neighbours in the community, as well as being rude and threatening to the staff and other residents.

Their ABCs state quite clearly that should they be in breach of any one aspect of the contract they shall be asked to vacate the premises. With this in mind let’s turn to an incident involving Jim several days after receiving his ABC, the conditions of which were discussed at length with him by a manager and his keyworker.
Jim, an 18 year old prolific offender, was seen by a member of staff standing on the front door step of the project adorned in the usual garb of the male underclass; tracksuit and trainers complimented with an averse attitude towards meaningful activity and a menacing hostile glare reserved for those weaker than himself. He often stands here beneath his bedroom window which he smashed, spitting, throwing litter and making noise. A few days ago a little old lady was walking up the street minding her own business. Affronted by her presence on the other side of the street Jim sought her attention by means of invective.

“Hey you! You four eyed git what the fuck are you looking at?” he bellowed at the elderly woman. He then picked something up off the ground either a small stone or piece of wood and hurled it at the lady as she passed by. I could hear him being sternly reprimanded by one of the staff who witnessed his actions. Jim’s justification for his actions were that the old woman had looked at him. In his world view an unwanted glance justifies an aggressive response, but only from those he doesn’t view as a threat.

Terry, the Support Worker who witnessed Jim’s display of barbarity, told me about it and we watched it back on the cctv system in the office. All I could think about was how Jim deserved a good thump for his behaviour. At the very least we can now evict him due to the terms of his ABC and even the conditions of his residency mean that for violence and anti-social beahviour we can evict him immediately. However, I shouldn’t underestimate the pervasive power of both rights and excuse making that are rife in this sector. I will just have to wait and see what the management’s decision is.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Harsh Deterrents for Violent Crime Needed-Not Community Sentencing

The Con-Dem coalition's Justice secretary Ken Clarke has abandoned the traditional Conservative view that prison works in favour of adopting more community sentencing. Now, whilst it might not function effectively as a means of rehabilitation the one thing that it does ensure is that dangerous people are taken off the streets and away from the communities that they terrorise. Ken Clarke, of course, will not live in a neighbourhood blighted by crime and anti-social behaviour, so if his policy fails it will be a theoretical blunder for him, but a daily nightmare for the victims of crime who tend to live in working or middle class areas.

His emphasis on finding ways to rehabilitate offenders and reduce recidivism is to be welcomed, but it does not neccesarily follow through that the best way to do this is through non-custodial sentences. In fact, research from the Ministry of Justice shows that neither existing community sanctions or custodial sentences have much effect on persistent reoffenders. However, at least with a spell in prison there is one less criminal on the streets for a given time.

Many prisoners and ex-offenders say that they dont find prison that tough. I would argue, and it would be interesting to see what a criminologist thought,that this is a factor in the high rates of recidivism. Whilst I am not advocating a return to cruel, primitive, or inhumane prison conditions, at the same time it should not be viewed as an easy ride and particularly so for those whose crimes are of a violent or menacing nature. Whilst I would welcome any approach and support that will prevent young people from entering the revolving door of the penal system and rehabilitate offenders I believe that we need to have a harsh deterrent for violent crimes. Any effective justice system should firstly be concerned with protecting the innocent and vulnerable.
Then and only then can we can get around to talking about rehabilitation.

For those of you interested I have written a piece for the New Statesman out on Monday, 24th January on how the wrong kind of cuts and changes to the criminal justice system will affect vulnerable and innocent residents in Supported Housing projects.