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.


Will said...

All very well writing for the Mail, Winston, but it's the Guardian readers who really need to read this stuff. Have you tried writing for them?

WinstonSmith33 said...

I wrote a piece for them last year and they interviewed me

Anonymous said...

Your right i where i work the kids prefer it to ISSP's they've told me time & time again if they are put on an ISSP then they'd rather stay inside.You'll be glad to know they all had easter eggs this weekend & The kids on basic will all get tvs for the long weekend to watch the royal wedding(because all 15 to 18 will want to watch it)but when we go to get them back they will smah them as they always do.

cheeky chappy said...

Winston, as always I take my hat off to you and really admire you for what you do and how you try to tell it as it is.

All this child/youth centred stuff is really starting to get me down. It hasn't and will not solve the problems and in the meantime good kids, and members of society are getting shafted and being let down.

When will enough be enough?

Will said...

Missed that - thanks for the pointer. Eye-opening article as always (and a few of the comments were just as eye-opening).

Anonymous said...

Restriction of liberty is the punishment. Annoying that there are those who don't flinch at it. I suppose things must be pretty rubbish for anyone to to give up their freedom for the opulent lifestyle of the incarcerated young offender.

Anonymous said...

I found out about Winston's blog via an article in the Guardian. Keep up the good work.

podro said...

I have a son going through Youth Offending at the moment and my experience of them has been very good. While there have been times when I have wanted them to give hime a good kick up the arse they have been very supportive in trying to get him turned around and seem to be succeeding.
Maybe one of the differences for him is having a middle class family that try to support him and work closely with YOS to bring about a favourable outcome and a stop to his offending.

Zenobia said...

Whoa, hold on a second. Fridge logic time here. Who thought that taking offensive youth to boxing gyms, where they can learn to punch folks in the face more effectively, was a good idea?

Anonymous said...

Hi Winston
I am so pleased that you have blogged again. Just nearly half way through your book and love it. Having spent way too long in children's services, your bits covering the children's Units and the housing association are spot on. It's like working in another virtual universe where everything is back to front.
I am really getting to the point where I cannot go on any further in this mad house.
I love reading your work as it is the truth.

Chris Henniker said...

Winston, It's a shame it's come to the point where kids don't want to do anything with their lives. I'm glad I was never in a care home, had two loving parents and teachers who understand me. If I was, I bet I would've ended up dead, in prison or drunk on a park bench. You make me thankful for what I've got, I'm a published author myself.

Congratlations on winning the Orwell Prize, by the way.

Zella1920 said...

Winston,I have just finished your book, started reading it as soon as I got it and couldn't put it down until finished, it was so tragic and so true. I have worked in Children's Services and have been horrified by some of the things that go on, it is definitely rights over responsibilities and today's children are not being taught that you have to earn the former while accepting and contributing to the latter. In a way the book 'Living with Teenagers' was similar in that it also featured children who were being allowed rights without accepting responsibilities in the same way, except that the parents in that case were middle class and presumably should have had the education to know better. I am recommending your book to everyone I know and especially those who work with children!

WinstonSmith33 said...


Thanks. Glad you enjoyed the book.

Anonymous said...

If my child misbehaves, then I withhold any treats or gifts that she was expecting to get. I explain to her that's why it happened. She has a tantrum at first but eventually she gets it, and behaviour improves. This is how i was brought up, and it seems to have worked out OK for me I just don't understand why it is considered unfair to expect adults to suffer the same discipline within the youth offending service. Still at least the Guardian readers and Chakrabati will be happy, unless they get mugged of course.

Anonymous said...

Been in a meeting today listen to this one if the misunderstood children are each given a new Xbox each to stop fighting & then told if they carry on fighting it'll be taken away!!!!!! WTF

Lilyofthefield said...

I suspect my husband has never believed half the tales I carry back from the sink school I work at. I bought your book, read it, and then passed it on to him. He got halfway through, spluttering, demanding to know if any of this could possibly be true, and then stopped reading it on the grounds that it was affecting his blood pressure.
So a job well done.

Defence Brief said...

While I don't disagree with the points you make, I think it is worth remembering that an ISSP is not really a punishment. It is a programme that uses intensive supervision to educate offenders and thus prevent offending in the future. It is not just a punishment like prison.

To be honest, if you can't grasp that then I'm not sure why you have taken a job working with YOT.

WinstonSmith33 said...

@ The Defence Brief,

I do grasp the concept of ISSP I just disagree with it and besides the Intensive supervision is anything but as offenders often breach their curfews and even commit crimes when on them.

Many of the young offenders I have been working with have been on ISSP several times and overall re-offending rates amongst young offenders are very high which would suggest to me that the current approach is failing.

For more prolific young offenders who committ serious crimes such as repeated burglaries and violent street robberies we should do all we can to alter their mindset. (sometimes there are successes) However, I believe these ISSPs should have a punitive element in the form of much more community work in the form of tough physical work so as to act as a deterrent.

Why burglars and muggers, no matter how old they are, should spend most of their ISSPs involved in what most people would view as enjoyable activities is sheer lunacy and seems more like a reward sceheme.

Last week some of the most serious young offenders in the area I was working spent the majority of their week boxing, playing football, rock climbing and at the gym. I agree with having one afternoon of this once a week for those who have earned it but on ISSP this is at least half and sometimes seventy five percent of the time.

I took a temporary post with the YOS to expose it for the sham that it is i.e. an ineffective, self perpetuating bureaucracy that rewards crime and instills dependency and a sense of victimhood in the perpetrators of crime.

spurnlad said...

I dealt with the 're-engagement' kids at my school for 15 years. When the course first started (full time, two days in school with me and three on work placement), it worked well. The students were selected from the kids that would obviously work, but were not academic. we had great success, with 80%n going on to full time work.
However: once it was noticed by management that my methods could work and the worst kids were behaving well and performing, the management started to give me kids that had no hope of working; were third generation benefits and often drug users. The last year group I taught were a complete set of work-shy thugs.

I have retired from teaching after consistent 'outstanding' reviews at OfStedbecause of, as I out it, 'ONE FUCK OFF TOO MANY',

Spurnlad said...

Don't forget, the people who think all this namby-pamby rights stuff up are insulated from any comsequences of the mayhem they create. What is the saying though: 'A Liberal is a right-winger who hasn't had his daughter mugged and raped yet'!

Spurnlad said...

Read Frank Chalk's book 'It's Not My Time Youre Wasting' for a Winston view of Secondary education.

Anonymous said...

Well 'Winston',if you remember,you were asked to assist with ISSP over the holidays,not during school term,where the struture was set of a mixture of learning and sport(positive for Young People's physical and MENTAL health.)

If you had spent time building some sort of relationship with the YP'S before off loading, your Daily Mail mantra on them,you may have more success.
Also it is common place for the lads to brag about how easy prison is in a group,they aren't likely to start crying in front of their peers.

Yes the system is frustating,however you can't force someone to learn and better themselves,if they are getting the opposite message from the third generation unemployed families and friends who survive week to week with petty crime.
Start at the family home,from birth with firm boundaries,expecations and unconditional love, and we will all be unemployed in 15 years!
Bring on that day, a real positive for any city- NO Youth Offending Service required.

WinstonSmith33 said...

@Anonymous above

I was on ISSP both during the holidays and also during school time. I mostly witnessed leisure activities as the main part of the program. Very little reparation and what 'learning' I witnessed was ineffectual.

It is inaccurate to pigeon hole me as a Daily Mail reader whilst I agree with some of their views on crime I disagree strongly with many of their stances on other issues.

The rates of reoffending amongst young people on ISSP throughout the UK are very high year on year. I can provide a link if you like to the evidence. I believe this is because there is very little deterrent for them to refrain from committing serious crime.

Whilst I agree that dysfunctional families are a factor in causing recidivist youth crime I dont believe that is the whole story. The fact that the system offers almost no deterrent beyond a stay at a Youth Offenders institute where again leisure activities and access to video games etc make the stay an easy experience. Im not advocating physical punishment or hanging people off the walls in shackles but it should be tough. Remember most people on ISSP are recidivist burglars or violent muggers. Yes, try and rehabilitate them with education, counselling where neccessary, but we also must be a tad more punitive in the interests of justice to the wider community and as a deterrent to further crime.

The reparation (community payback work) at the YOS was barely in place. For some people this involved doing a 'crime poster' i.e. drawing in a room and one worker told me that many times due to lack of anything being put in place he would just drive around with the young people in the van. Personally, I think that recidivist burglars and muggers should be doing their community payback work before they are treated to leisure activities. It is my belief that this emphasis on the softly softly approach feeds in to the high rates of recidivism. I believe we need a more balanced approach not excessively harsh or as is currently practiced a system that is influenced by excessively anti-authoritarian attitudes developed by the extreme left cultural revolutionaries in the sixties.

Anonymous said...

Hi Winston
I would be interested to hear your opinion/ideas on how ISSP could be improved in practice. Ie you say ' we also must be a tad more punitive in the interests of justice to the wider community' etc. There appears to be arguments for and against what you say however have you seriously considered what could be put in place to how it is now? would love to hear what you have to say.

WinstonSmith33 said...

@Anonymous above.

Reparation work should be more of a priority than daily leisure activities. Leisure activities should be once a week for half a day and for those who engage, turn up on time and refrain from being rude to staff and others and are respectful to themselves and others.

In Manchester the canals are absolutely filthy with floating litter as are many areas of the streets. Get some nets and bring the young lads down to the canals and get them to clean up the litter in their respective neighbourhoods.

What frustrates me is that this is all very obvious and should already be in place.

The surveillance element of the ISSP should be much more rigorous with the police as opposed to private companies knowing straight away when an offender has breached their curfew and their should be a tracking device on it. It can take up to 24 hours before a young offender breaches their curfew before the police are informed. How is this rigorous surveillance to assure the community as the YJB board have claimed on their website?

Jolina said...

I am very thankful that there are many youth programs out there. I do hope that all are as effective as the other. But I always do wonder why more and more teens are becoming violent these days. I do hope that this curse will be put to an end.