Thursday 27 August 2009

Rewarding Young Criminals

A few weeks ago,an academic study revealed that the government's Intensive Surveillance and Supervision Programme to deal with young offenders is useless. Many of us working with young offenders in various contexts have known this for years. We see the proof of it every day. However, many working with the underclass in various contexts keep our mouths shut. To point out the obvious that the left-liberal approach to crime and disorder doesn't work is heresy and can have a detrimental effect on your career, but then again should you be doing a job you don't believe in? I know I won't last much longer that's for sure.

One lad called Perry, that I've worked with at a Supported Housing project was on an ISSP for driving recklessly whilst drunk in a stolen vehicle. It was his second offence of this exact nature in just six months. Now, Perry committed the second of these two offences just shy of his eighteenth birthday. By the time it went to court Perry was an adult in the eyes of the law but was treated as a juvenile as he had committed the offences when he was seventeen.

According to the Youth Justice Board, an ISSP is the most rigorous non-custodial sentence for young offenders. Now, I dont know about you but when I think of the word rigorous, in the context of dealing with criminal behaviour, I imagine some kind of negative consequence being visited upon the perpetrator in the interests of justice and also to act as a deterrent to committing future crimes. Sadly, this is not so, as the case of Perry so clearly illustrates.

Whilst on his ISSP, the surveillance component required that Perry was tagged and was on a strict curfew which meant he had to be in his room in the Supported Housing project every night by eight o'clock. When Perry failed to meet his curfew, as he often did, the electronic box in his room would send out a signal to the relevant authorities informing them of Perry's non compliance with his curfew. Oh by the way, the relevant authorities were not the police, but a private security company hundreds of miles away. They rang us at the Project, usually the morning after Perry had failed to abide by his curfew, in which time he could have committed a wide variety of offences. They then informed the Youth Offending Team and Perry went back to court. Just how is this close surveillance backed up by rigorous enforcement that reaasures the community? Yet it claims so on the Youth Justice Board's website (see previous link). People have committed horrendous crimes including murder whilst on ISSPs and their adult equivalent.

The judge actually praised Perry for only violating his curfew a few times and commended Perry for engaging fully with the supervision part of the programme. This involved dealing with the underlying causes ( a euphemism for excuses) for Perry's criminal lifestyle. To be fair, some of the supervision was positive, particularly getting Perry to succesfully engage on a literacy course. If our schools were properly run Perry would already know how to read but that's a whole other blog. Over to Frank Chalk.

The most shocking aspect of Perry's supervision was the amount of leisure and recreation that was being laid on for him by the Youth Offending Team and at the taxpyer's expense. Perry showed me a copy of his weekly Supervison rota. Everyday he would meet with his Youth Offending Team Support Worker who would take him on various outings and activities. These included, bowling, swimming, he was bought an annual membership for the local snooker club, taken to a stately home, taken on a naval battleship and everyday brought out for lunch to his favourite Scottish restaurant, Mcdonalds. This went on for the several months Perry was on the ISSP.

In the words of Perry, "I thought I was going to be punished, this is mad, I might steal another car to get back on it again," he half joked.

Tuesday 11 August 2009

Making the Right Choice (part 2)

Having had a metal weight thrown at his head, which would enrage even the most passive person, Liam went in to an apoplectic frenzy. Edwin’s instincts quickly told him that were he to remain in the vicinity of Liam he would be the victim of grievous bodily harm. Edwin, for once, made the right choice and locked himself in his room. The pregnant Becky joined him, as did the two female members of staff. Liam emerged from his room wearing a pair of steel toe capped building boots. He headed for Edwin’s door and started to kick violently with all his strength. I asked him calmly to please refrain from trying to break Edwin’s door down, always with the manners of course, it’s good for their self-esteem you see to speak to them so. Of course, he didn’t listen and threatened me as well. I reminded him that there was a pregnant teenage girl in the room with Edwin and that she was terrified (he has attacked her in the past but been restrained by staff) and that such high levels of stress were not good for a pregnant woman. All to no avail. Liam told Edwin that he was going to “mash you up”, “shank you innit blood” and “mess you right up”. Edwin, having now the protection of a door with furniture against it, had a sudden burst of verbal bravado and both himself and Liam exchanged more threats. All the while, Liam was violently kicking against the door hoping to break in. By then, Liam had also acquired a frying pan and judging by the way he was holding it, he wasn’t planning to make Edwin an omlette with it when he got in to the room.

I heard the phone ringing in the office so I went to get it leaving Liam to kick at the door further and threaten Edwin. I secretly hoped that Edwin would open the door and throw another weight at Liam hopefully getting him between the eyes. I got to the office and answered the phone and it was Louise, the Senior support worker, ringing from Edwin’s room, telling me to ring the police as she believed that the door was beginning to give way and she was genuinely concerned that Liam was going to carry through with his threats if he managed to get in. I rang the Police and surprisingly they had two officers around within twenty minutes. However, they were none too pleased to be there and were initially quite rude. I told them I empathised with their frustration (there are only two of them for several villages encompassing several thousand people). They told me no offences had been committed and that I should have dealt with the scenario myself. I politely said, “Surely this is a disturbance of the peace? If I hadn’t called you now in an hour I would be ringing you about GBH.”

They reluctantly talked to both Edwin and Liam. This seemed to do the trick. However, as soon as they were gone Liam refused to go to bed and started demanding a lift home to his mother’s in London (he’s on a section 20 i.e. his mum still has most of the rights over him but the taxpayer accommodate and look after him). Liam demanded to talk to the on-call manager, as it’s his right to have everything explained to him he was allowed to phone her, to know why he couldn’t get a lift from staff to London. It was now 0145 am and staff had been on since 0800 and some of us, including myself, were on our second day straight through. Eventually, by 0230 in the morning tiredness got the best of Liam and he went to bed. It was a close call. The night could have gone so much worse.

Now, on the Monday morning after the incident on the Friday night, the manager called me to the office. I thought maybe it was to ask how I was having gotten almost no sleep on the Friday shift and having been threatened with actual bodily harm by a person with violent tendencies. It was very na├»ve of me to make this presumption. I had momentarily forgotten that the care system treats its frontline staff with disdain and views them as expendable and badly paid receptacles of abuse from the spawn of the underclass. The managers, many of them nice people, some of them not, spend their days in offices filling in forms and ticking boxes. Sometimes, they too can be at the receiving end of abuse but a lot less so than the Support Workers. Anyway, the manager was calling me in because Friday night’s incident was creating some bureaucratic and form filling issues for her.

“Winston, why were the two female members of staff hiding in Edwin’s room with Becky?”

“Well, it might have something to do with a 6’2 teenager in steel toe capped boots running towards them with a frying pan?” I quipped.

“Staff should not hide from the young people, by doing so they learn that they are in charge of the house. Liam should have been restrained in that scenario.”

Yes, he should have been restrained. I agree. In an ideal world there wouldn’t be two diminutive females with whom I would be doing the restraining of a teenager twice their size and several times their combined strength. There also wouldn’t be several forms to fill out after the restraint, to justify it and let’s remember we were already up several hours past our own bed time and had to be awake and on shift by 08.00 the following morning. There also wouldn’t be the constant threat of the young person making an allegation that you used excessive force. If they carry through with such allegations it can lead to immediate suspension from work whilst you are investigated. Even if you are proved innocent the fact an allegation was made stays on your record. Teenagers in care regularly threaten to make false abuse allegations, both physical and sexual against staff, some of them carry them through ruining the careers of their victims even when the allegations are untrue. It is these teenagers’ most effective weapon and the threat of it alone makes you very weary of ever using restraints.

“Look Winston, the bottom line is that the other staff should not have been hiding. Also, why did you call the police? There was no need to do so in these circumstances. I am going to find it very hard to justify in my report to OFSTED why the police were called for this raucous. I mean Liam often kicks off and mostly never carries out his threats,” remarked the manager.

“Yes, but sometimes he does carry out his threats and in this instance I judged it wise to call the police. This was the worst I’ve seen him and we do also have a pregnant girl in this house whose safety we must guarantee", I stated.

“Well, it’s going to be a nightmare to write up and OFSTED will not be happy.”

Obviously, the issue here is how this fits in to existing bureaucratic templates and the reaction of the state inspectorate, not how do we control this boy and make sure he cannot and will not behave like this again. My two colleagues were also reprimanded for the manner in which we dealt with this scenario. No one asked us how we were.

This same day, Liam was once again refusing to attend his own private school on the premises, whilst the teacher out of boredom surfed the internet. I’d say he was delighted. When Liam is in there he threatens him and smashes up the class. The walls have the holes to prove it.

The other staff and myself followed Liam around most of the morning reminding him how much money he could earn for the entire week if he only spent an hour a day in school and behaved himself by making the right choices. The manager told us to inform Liam and his peers that another trip to the amusement park was planned for the coming weekend dependent on behaviour. In reality, there only has to be a very minimal standard of good behaviour and not even on a consistent basis.

However, the biggest question that must arise for any sane person is where are the effective consequences for this young person that will make him learn from his mistakes and will tame his aggressive and anti-social beahviour? In reality, there are none.

Thursday 6 August 2009

Making the Right Choice (part 1)

I haven’t been posting for a while as I had to take some time off work with stress and the last thing I wanted to do was regurgitate the facts regarding the stress I was under. Anyway, here is a snippet that illustrates why people working with feral youths and the underclass regularly take time off sick and also tend not to last more than a couple of years in the sector.

A few weeks back, I was at a notorious difficult care home for teenagers. Kerry, Louise and myself were trying to settle to bed, Liam, 15, Edwin, 15 and Becky, 15 and pregnant. In the morning, we were to take them to a local amusement park to reward them for a week of verbal abuse, violence, criminal damage, truancy and inertia. Every weekend they get to go somewhere, as well as a few outings during the week, often when they should be at school. However, the management and staff had stipulated that if they didn’t settle to bed on time, this particular Friday night, then the amusement park would be cancelled. This was because they were all so hideously behaved during the week and it was felt they should have to comply with some of the house rules to ‘earn’ the trip out. Personally, on account of all the negative behavior mentioned there should be no trip at all. When I was a child this was called a consequence. However, in care homes for teenagers if they behave for even one hour they will get some kind of reward. On the other hand, when they kick off and are violent or abusive this behavior will usually lead to minimal sanctions, if any. The emphasis is put on praising the positive, it’s called ‘positive reinforcement’, but this tends to be done at the expense of ignoring the negative and not dealing with it. I am not against ‘positive reinforcement,’ it works, but only when used in conjunction with discipline and boundaries. If you only use positive reinforcement the child or teenager learns that he or she can do what they want. Simply put, they learn how to manipulate.

Anyway, as we were trying to get the youngsters to settle down Liam became argumentative and said he was going to play his music loud for as long as he wanted. He was told this would lead to him not being allowed go to the amusement park the next day with the others.
“I will be f**king going. I’d like to see you try and stop me,” he barked.

“Well Liam, it’s not a question of me stopping you, it’s a question of me refusing to take you there and if you haven’t noticed you don’t drive and live over thirty miles from the amusement park. Now, I need you to make the right choice (we have to talk to them like this its management diktat) so you can have an enjoyable activity tomorrow. I know you can make the right choice and turn your music off and go to sleep. If you don’t, then I will have to come in and turn it off as you are disturbing your peers and preventing staff from finishing their work and getting to bed,” I stated.

“If you come in to my room, I will f**king smash you right up!” he snarled, as he held a steel toe capped boot in his hand ready to throw it at me.
Liam is 6’2 and 15 stone. He is huge. He is very dangerous. He has assaulted staff on many occasions. He spits, punches, throws objects and smashes up the house several times a week. He has smashed up several staff members’ cars. His behaviour never improves, he just gets worse. He should be in a secure unit. He will probably end up there eventually, but before he does he will wreak plenty of mayhem.

At times, I am frightened of him. Tonight is one of those times. He has that vacant angry look in his eye. Going in to turn his music off will escalate his behaviour. I want to avoid this, if possible, but I may have no choice. He is always belligerent so that almost any request for him to do something even the most trivial of things turns in to a power struggle where he asserts his power. He always wins in one way or another because care is set up this way.

The other two residents, Edwin and Becky are worried that if Liam doesn’t calm down and turn his music down, they too wont be able to go to the amusement park. They have been reassured this is not the case but they don’t believe the other staff or me. Edwin appeals to Liam to turn off the music, peer pressure works a lot better than adult authority (which is almost non-existent). However, even the request of his friend doesn’t work on this occasion. Staff spend another twenty minutes talking to Liam encouraging him to make the ‘right choice’ and praising him for the few hours during the week when he wasn’t being a scumbag (as he was on his xbox he had no reason or time to be involved in anti-social behavior). None of this was working, it never does.

Edwin by then was losing his temper and shouting and threatening Liam, as was the teenage mother to be Becky. Anyone walking past the house would have heard a cacophony of angry violent threats, swearing and loud dance music. If someone was to listen close enough they would hear the staff praising the young people and offering them bribes to refrain from their behavior. By now, Edwin could take no more of Liam’s refusal to co-operate, he went to his room and picked up a large metal body building weight. He ran towards Liam and let the weight fly. Liam ducked out of the way just in time. Then, his eyes glazed over and veins were throbbing in his forehead with rage. There was going to be trouble for sure. Here is a lad who has smashed up the entire house and assaulted staff simply for being asked politely to go to school. He is never made or coerced to attend just asked and encouraged with a daily cash award if he attends. So, you can imagine what he is like when he has got a valid reason to be angry?