Wednesday 28 August 2019

Training for Catburglars

Originally posted May 2011

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 renowned 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.


Lindsay Mitchell said...

"It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his job depends on not understanding it."

So how come you kept yours?

Thanks for a good dose of 'best medicine' to kick the day off with.

Anonymous said...

I get your point about the climbing training... not good. But the delivering take away food sounds like a great idea - feed 'em cheap crap until they are too fat and unhealthy to go out on the rob!

Oswald Bastable said...

Just as mental as removing the prison officers gym (New Zealand Corrections) and paying for instructors to teach violent offenders how to bulk up.

Anonymous said...

nothing new here ... decades ago we had a violent kid in the year below me at school. His only saving grace was he was thin and puny. I saw him a few years late and he was built like a brick outhouse. Yes, you guessed it, a 6 month residential body-building course - sorry, a six month stretch in borstal.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm sounds just like being at work
Dont ya just love em :-(

Anonymous said...

I just finished your book. Excellent work. I very much enjoyed it despite the sadness that so many are lost in such a system. However, I thought you were a bit harsh on religion. Not all religions are the same. Frankly I doubt you would have had much difficulty from one of the young adults who was a regular at the local Methodist Bible study. Maybe one of the reasons that they act in such amoral and immoral ways is that as you say 99% have no interest in Christianity or any other faith. Obviously secularism has not provided any solid ground for them. Just a thought.

WinstonSmith33 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
WinstonSmith33 said...

@Anonymous above,

Glad you enjoyed the book.

I admit that I am a hardcore secularist. Saying that, I was educated by Irish De La Salle Brothers. The majority of whom were very decent people at my school at least(this wasnt always the case in other schools).

However, my experiences of growing up in a closed minded dogmatically religious country put me off religion as I saw mostly dysfunction and hypocrisy arising from it. These are just my experiences and opinions and there are some religious people I have great respect for including close friends.

Winston Smith

RogBoy said...

Love the blog, winston. Always look forward to reading your posts.

What is it with youth offending teams (or whatever they are called these days) and expensive leisure activities? Is anything positive achieved by this? Is it just a bribe to keep some offenders quite for a bit?

I had an acquaintance once who did a similar sounding job to yours. He was always off climbing, or mountain bike riding, or motorcycle scrambling with the very worst of criminally minded yoofs. I could never understand, and he could never explain, why these people get these privileges. It doesn't happen for the normal kids.

Anonymous said...

Winston, lol now you live in a secularist country and write about its dysfunction and the hypocrisy arising from it. Remember original sin? I think this is a human condition rather then a religious thing. But you don't have to be religious to go for the ideas of not stealing, not hurting others, not hurting yourself, not lying, not engaging in sexual misbehavior etc. The 10 commandments are pretty good rules for life, especially if a child has no commandments at all. I think that such clear rules are part of the solution to the problems you encountered, assuming they are actually enforced. Good luck in your current job and good work in showing us the reality behind the rhetoric of the benefits culture.

Richard said...

Perhaps Winston if you are so disillusioned with the whole system its time you left as its likely your negativity impacts on the very clients you signed up to help. As a residential social worker for almost twenty years i recognise alot of the situations you describe and you sound like alot of workers i come across whining about the rules instead of learning to understand the concepts behind them thus learning how to implement them to acheive positive outcomes. And of course young people have rights. So do Adults and Care Workers if youre strong enough to stand up for them.

WinstonSmith33 said...


I understand the concepts behind the policies I just disagree with them. Concepts are not facts just someone's opinions. These concepts that underpin the care system are failing the children in their care. These same concepts are at operation in the Youth Offending Service and whilst they may work with less serious offenders they fail to tackle recidivism rates amongst young offenders and the stats are there to prove it.

I never said I dont think young people should have rights I just dont agree with all of them and I think that some rights need to be earned and with them come responsibilities.

With all due respect you sound to me like you are suffering from the kind of ideological insanity that shapes youth social policy in Britain.

andrew said...

I enjoy reading your posts and have some sympathy with a lot of what you say. You are good at demolishing things - I would like to see some more constructive comments about what should be done to change things for the better.

Anonymous said...

Winston - loved your book though thought some repetition of the blog.

Thinking about your reply to Richard above and just a shallow reply to both of you.
I am suspicous of any universal solution to any groups problems.
I may be putting words in each of your mouths but you Richard seem to be suggesting that just banging away with understanding, sympathy and support WILL work and if it has not yet then just do more of it. Winston you on the other hand seem to be commiting the same mistake the other way - just give em a 'firm but fair' hand and everyone will respond. I dont believe EVERYBODY would respond, do you?

Accepting that this may be not the point you were making lets ask both of you how do you change methods, what measures would you use to change modes on somebody not responding to your model of thought?

Or would you just carry on with your model reinforcing failure on the grounds that this time they will get the point?

WinstonSmith33 said...

@Anonymous above,

There is only about 20 percent of the book taken from the blog. It is mostly new material.

With regards to your points I dont feel that a one size fits all policy would work with all offenders in terms of rehabilitating them but I do believe that overall a tough but fair system for serious and prolific youth offenders is the answer with appropriate support where neccessary. However, there are just some people who dont want to change or are incapable of it no matter what approach is used something that many people on the liberal or socialist spectrum fail to acknowledge.

Anonymous said...

Richard, the outcomes for children in care have been and continue to be dismal. Whatever it is you have been doing for the past 20 years is on average wrong- especially if you recognise some of Winston's situations. Winston is not the only one who can see that the gap between a child in care's rights and responsibilities is so wide - its resulted in chaos.

Also, what are the RSW Rights and how do they fight for them?

WinstonSmith33 said...

From my experience Residential Support Workers seem to have few rights. They certainly dont have the legal right to work in a safe environment which surely contravenes Health and Safety laws.

If RSWs had rights that were defended then the hight staff turnover would be reduced thus giving more consistency to the kids in the homes.

Stick said...

I saw a documentary on Holloway prison. While watching I wondered if any of them were known to you from your job. They called the place 'Hotel Holloway'. Incredible - they had tv's, cigarettes, make up etc. My question is : When do these people get punished for their crimes instead of rewarded?

Mr. Beer N. Hockey said...

I may have the answer to Stick's question - when they get married.

Hideki said...


They're punished by the loss of their freedom, that is what the courts demand.

Whether they have TVs, Playstations, Cigarettes is irrelevant.

If you're curious, the main reason for the provision of TVs etc. is to give them incentive to behave, there are three levels in prison, Basic, Standard and Enhanced, only on the latter two do you have the option of hiring a television, not playing by the rules generally involves being reclassified as basic.

There was an excellent documentary about strangeways prison on ITV recently, if you're quick you can probably catch all three parts on ITV Player, just search for strangeways, it's a good warts and all glimpse into typical (Cat A) prison life.

Anonymous said...

After reading your post i can see you only know about prison's from TV.I've worked on the wings in a YOI for the last 9 years & you wont belive what these kids get.Eater eggs etc at easter & as for Basic all they have to say oh i'll self harm & the mangement give them anything they want.Education upto A-level with a max of 8 to a class!!! Wish my kids had the same class level at school.No wonder they keep coming back.As prison officers say the worst to work with are not Cat A but women & kids.

Anonymous said...

"They certainly dont have the legal right to work in a safe environment which surely contravenes Health and Safety laws."

This makes no sense whatsoever. If the conditions are illegal then clearly they do have a right.

Rights need enforcing. If you see breaches of people's rights and instead of trying to enforce them, use these breaches as the basis for a literary career, than perhaps the fault lies (if not entirely, then at least to a degree) with you.

At the risk of sounding like something printed on a mug, stop moaning and BE THE CHANGE.

Unless of course the literary career is more important than the issues which so rile you.