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.


Angela said...

Hi Winston, I have been a fan of your blog since day 1 and I rushed out and bought a copy of Generation F as soon as it came out (at full price from Waterstones no less) and I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed it as I got the impression that you deeply cared about the work you were doing with young people in care and supported housing but you got frustated with red tape and "leftie ideals", however I get the impression from your more recent posts that you just see your charges as young thugs who need to be locked up 24/7 as they are a lost cause, which begs the question, why are you working in the youth offending service? If you think that locking young offenders up and chucking away the key is the answer, please check out prisonerben's blog for the flip side. As i said a am a big fan but your posts seem to be getting a bit Daily Mail if you know what I mean! Your thoughts would be appreciated on this matter. That said keep it coming and best wishes, Angela x

WinstonSmith33 said...


Hi Angela I dont believe that young offenders should be locked up and have the key thrown away I have never said that, but I can see how you would jump to that conclusion in that I am scathing of aspects of the current system.

However, for those who keep re-offending and who commit serious offences such as burglaries and violent muggings I think that a custodial sentence is appropriate in that whilst they are locked up the communities in which they live are protected from their anti-social behaviour. At the end of the day most serious young offenders commit the majority of their crimes in their own underprivilged neighbourhoods. The left-liberal policy makers who live in middle class areas might well have different attitudes to offending behaviour if they lived cheek by jowl with burglars and aggressive muggers.

I have no problem with non-custodial sentences but when the toughest one (ISSP) mostly consists of the kinds of leisure activities that I have documented here is it any wonder that the rates of re-offending amongst prolific young offenders is rising almost every year as there is no detterent.

The idea that it is solely the preserve of Daily Mail readers and right wing Conservatives to espouse the values of law and order and to seek punishment for criminal behaviour is mistaken. Old Labour before the cultural revolution of the 60s were quite tough in dealing with serious crime.

I dont argue that all young offenders even the serious ones are beyond rehabilitation (some probably are though) and I have stated this in earlier posts. Nor do I advocate draconian or brutal punishments. However, is it not ludicrous and unjust that persistent violent offenders and burglars are driven to sports centres and taken to youth clubs to play video games? How does this help rehabilitate them? From working first hand with it I can tell you it doesnt and this fails both the young person and society. Tough community work and detention centres where privileges are earned and video game consoles in bedrooms are not allowed would be a start.

The reason that I am quite conservative in my views on crime is that we live in a country with some of the most generous welfare entitlements in the world and therefore there is no justification for stealing and robbing from one's neighbours. I would understand if we had abject poverty why someone might rob your fridge. You might be shocked to know that in many other areas my views are either very liberal or socially democratic so I could hardly be classed as a typical Daily Mail reader. However, I do agree with the Mail's opinions on law and order but overall The Independent is my paper of choice.

WinstonSmith33 said...

@ Angela,

Two more points. Not all the young offenders I encounter are beyond hope. The majority who commit less serious offences grow out of it and even some of the more serious ones do so they are not all a lost cause. Many young people make mistakes its part of growing up.

My contract with the Youth Offending Service ends in a few months and I cant say I will miss it.

Angela said...

Hi Winston, Thanks for your comments. On reflection you are probably correct and there are probably many young violent offenders that could do with custodial sentences but considering you could probably send the little blighters to Eton for less than prison costs there must be a better way. I agree that the ISSP is probaly not the best way to deal with these young offenders. I like the idea of restorative justice although i accept it is not appropriate for all offenders. What do you plan on doing once the youth offending work is up? Something you will bog about I hope.

Jim Brown said...


I'm glad you've made the point that many young offenders just grow out of offending. The others of course come our way to Probation and that can be quite a culture shock I can tell you!

To be honest I wasn't a great supporter of Probation losing its role with young offenders partly because the transition is now pretty arbitrary and brutal with virtually no transition.

I understand what you're saying about the trips to the gym, youth clubs or sports centres etc. In days past newspaper headlines about 'treats for naughty kids' put paid to schemes like Intermediate Treatment, which I think were well thought out and much more about 'outward bound' stuff than treats as such - but gosh that dates me.

I'd be interested to know your views on these old-style Intermediate Treatment schemes of yesteryear if you were at all involved? I think they would be much more useful and valuable today.

I hope you don't mind but I might well do a post on my blog about some of your experiences with young offenders and what it all looked/looks like from my and Probations perspective.



Anonymous said...

If anyone watched "The Scheme" can see that prison for the most prolific offenders - mostly addicts - is a safe place for then which they like to return to when things get too hectic on the outside. I think leaving them in prison is better for them and society and I can't see why its not done.

Zenobia said...

There's a black metal song that describes my attitude to people like this. It's by Carpathian Forest and is called "Start up the Incinerator, Here Comes Another Useless Fool."

The bike shed said...

An interesting line of comments here. I too bought your book and was shocked by what I read. But if I had a disappointment it was that you never really gave a structured a detailed alternative to the current system.

I've got the point that we are failing young people and that some feral brutes need tougher deterrents. But what else needs to change? It must be more than stopping video games in bedrooms.

A series of posts on the Winston alternative would be interesting.

dan said...

I also work in social housing. At my place of work we have a much tougher approach to breaches of the license agreement than where you've worked, especially towards aggressive behaviour. Our offer of accommodation also includes a behaviour contract that states residents will take up an apprenticeship, go to college, find a job or do some volunteering. Failure to do this within a few weeks of moving in is a breach of license.

Nursing homes kent said...

I recently came across your article and read together. I wish to express my admiration for your writing skills and ability to make readers read from beginning to end. .....

Anonymous said...

As an alternative to custody an offender needs to have committed a fairly nasty crime to be on an ISSP. I’d therefore expect the 17 year old you describe to show some humility and would question the suitability of the program for someone with his attitude. The service you work for have the authority to take him to court if he breaches his ISSP and they might consider whether his use of abusive and threatening language constitutes a breach. The Local Authority would no doubt be happy to see him return to prison given that he’s in a residential children’s home. If that’s private they’ll be charging anything between 3 to 5 grand a week, which is pretty criminal in itself.

WinstonSmith33 said...

@Anonymous above,

I have witnessed so many occasions when a young person should be breached for not adhering to their Issp or Youth Rehabilitation Order. This is either because the Youth Offending Officer is trying to avoid the mountain of paperwork involved or because they dont want the young person to get in trouble or a bit of both.

Anonymous said...

I don’t doubt that there are many cases when young offenders have been in breach of their community sentences, but not been returned to court. This could be due to youth justice workers focusing too much on the child welfare aspect of the work rather than directly tackling the offending behaviour itself, but in most cases the two aren’t mutually exclusive. Your acknowledgment of the link between youth crime and deprivation, family breakdown, poor parenting, domestic violence, parental substance misuse, poverty etc is inherent within your use of the term “underclass”. Young people whose childhoods are defined by those issues are the ones you are currently working with. Some children are resilient and can succeed despite their disadvantages and others are not. However, it’s unlikely that a young person will see the error of their ways quickly and it will take more than merely asking a violent offender to consider their victim’s feelings in order to get them to seriously reflect on their behaviour. Change is a gradual process for everyone and it takes creativity, patience, commitment and skill on behalf of those working closely with young offenders to promote this. Those doing the direct work such as yourself are possibly in a better position to promote positive change than the office bound youth offending officers you describe.

As the 17 year old you mention is in care he’ll have a social worker to focus on his welfare so there is competing agendas inherent within the system. If he is in clear breach of his ISSP he should be breached by his youth justice worker. However, as corporate parents of a Looked After Child the Local Authority is duty bound to act as any “good” would. Though this is vague I would argue that any good parent would do all they can to keep their child out of custody regardless of the offence as prison will do nothing accept brutalise their child – even if they do have access to TV’s and computer games.

Anonymous said...

"I would argue that any good parent would do all they can to keep their child out of custody regardless of the offence as prison will do nothing accept brutalise their child – even if they do have access to TV’s and computer games."

Have you been in a prison of late?

Anonymous said...

Thing is - this guy is on his second run of ISSP. His attitude towards his victims is that they are soft as sh1te so deserve whatever he decides should be dealt them - because they are effectively defenceless !

Surely it would be reasonable to show him what being defenceless means to his victims by locking him in a room - tied and bound (and blindfolded) whilst his victims get a couple of hours to play - given the choice of baseball bats, hacksaws and stanleys ? As long as he was warned that if he was a second timer this would be the consequence do you not think it might focus his mind a tad ? If not for the second offence - the third might really be avoided when reality actually kicked in ! Much more effective than being made to say sorry to people he will obviously still consider to be soft as sh1te !

Now I know people will think I am a 'daily mailer' right wing fanatic - but I am not !
I just believe that getting them to understand the consequences of their actions for real - and making them genuinely remourseful (even if that means sorry for themselves because of their treatment) enough to not want it to happen again ! I'm not saying they do not deserve a chance - but once they are aware that 1 chance is all they are getting - it may focus the mind a bit more than treating them as though they have no choice or self control.

WinstonSmith33 said...

@anonymous above,

I agree that there should be harsh deterrents as a form of punishment for unprovoked violent crimes as well as lengthy stays at her majesty's pleasure. However, I disagree that this should consist of torture and severe beatings as you suggest. This would probably just make the violent criminal worse when released in to society. I would treat them humanely and with basic rights. However, that said I would serve them unsophisticated food and have them doing very hard physical work as well as trying to find ways to rehabilitate them. I believe that punitive measures are an essential element in rehabilitation. That is not to say that psychologocial and other approaches do not also have a role to play. However, some people are beyond rehabilitation and need to be locked away to protect the public.

Anonymous said...

What has this guy learned? That when he mugs people he will be rewarded with accommodation and a day out playing computer games without so much as a ticking off from anyone in authority. Like that guy you mentioned previously who threw something at an old lady, of course he only attacks "soft" people - leave him alone with just one of our soldiers and we'd soon see how hard he is.

Great blog Winston, an often infuriating but always fascinating read.

110 Downing Street (

Anonymous said...

It is a good blog, but is sadly attracting people who think the use of violence is the undisputable answer to tackling crime. The quality of debate is descending into mindless comments about the specific types of violence that should be administered. Such comments are nothing more than the violent fantasies of their authors. The opportunity for sensible debate where arguments are well constructed and rational is being diminished here.

Anonymous said...

Out of 18 comments, only two mention violence, and only one seriously advocates it ('leave him alone with just one of our soldiers and we'd soon see how hard he is' reads more like an observation than a serious policy proposal).

We formerly had a stern criminal justice system, and a stricter Welfare State did not reward failing or criminal lifestyles. So stern that according to Professor Jose Harris ('Private Lives, Public Spirit: Britain 1870-1914'), 'In 1912-13, for example, one quarter of males aged 16 to 21 who were imprisoned in the metropolitan area of London were serving seven-day sentences for offences which included drunkenness, playing games in the street; riding a bicycle without lights, gaming, obscene language, and sleeping rough.'

Stern but tempered with considerable mercy, with just over half of those sentenced to death reprieved--and even those reprieved could anticipate being paroled after 20 years; those convicted of non-capital crimes could shorten their sentences by as much as a quarter for satisfactory conduct.

It seemed to work: in 1901 we had 2.24 crimes of serious violence (including homicides) per 100,000 people; in 1921, we had 1.52; in 2001 we had 59.56; 0.73 rapes per 100,000 in 1901, 0.33 in 1921, 34.49 in 2001. The figures are similar for all crimes: low in 1901, often lower yet in 1921, and remaining fairly low until starting to rise ever steeper from the 50s, going off the scale from the 70s onwards. Incidentally, our formerly low crime rates were achieved with a much smaller number of police officers: 130.61 police officers per 100,000 in 1901, 150.22 in 1921 and 231.57 in 2001 (the latter figure not including civilian support staff).

Anonymous said...

110 Downingstreet, you seem to have the impression that the 17 year old described is in care because of his criminal behaviour. This is unlikely to be the case. The care system and the youth justice system are separate from each other. Youth courts sometimes remand young people to Local Authority care, but if they are given a custodial sentence they go to a Youth Offending Institute not a children’s home. Young people are mostly in care because they have been abused or neglected within their own families and it’s unlikely that this 17 year old lives in a children’s home as part of his ISSP.

The central link between the youth justice system and the care system is that young people in care are much more likely to become prolific offenders. They are also more likely to become homeless, develop drug and alcohol problems or end up in prostitution. It should be remembered though that they did nothing wrong to end up in care.

Anonymous said...

Thankfully Stranger we no longer send children to prison for riding a bike without lights. We should also be grateful that many crimes that were ignored in 1912 are now taken seriously - such as child abuse and domestic violence. While early 20th century society took a zero tolerance approach to the petty nonsense you mention, a man could regularly beat his wife and children with impunity. Rape with marriage was not illegal and the sexual abuse of children was largely ignored until the 1980s. I don't consider a criminal justice system that tolerates such behavior to be as stern as you suggest.

Your conclusion that crime rates were lower in 1901 and 1921 because of harsh sentencing doesn't stand up to even the mildest scrutiny. It could be due to a whole range of factors that make today's society totally different from what it was 100 years ago.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, the prison statistics I cited did not specify children but adults.

You assert that 'a man could regularly beat his wife and children with impunity'--that is untrue. Wives had avenues of legal redress and Police and Courts prosecuted accordingly; but such crimes (if unwitnessed) require victims to report it and testify. To illustrate, there was the case of Mrs Delvin in 1890:

'The poor woman was thrashed most unmercifully every Saturday night of the year, but although frequently advised to obtain police protection she would never consent to go against her husband in a police court. She did ask the local constable once or twice to speak to her husband but beyond that she refused to go.'
(Stewart P. Evans, Executioner: The Chronicles of James Berry, Victorian Hangman, p.257; my emphasis)

Mrs Delvin sadly chose not to avail herself of the law's protection--common even today, as described repeatedly by former NHS and prison psychiatrist Dr Anthony Daniels, e.g. see this excerpt from his Second Opinion.

You claim 'sexual abuse of children was largely ignored until the 1980s'. This is unverifiable assertion: such abuse is perpetrated in secret--on what do you base your claim to know what went on behind closed doors over a century ago? That communities were once closely-knit--more neighbourly, often with multiple generations of a family living under the same roof--suggests that opportunities to commit perverted crimes were far less than today: it is inconceivable how anyone in an urban environment back then could have inflicted the 17 long months of cruelty suffered by 'Baby P'.

As for the legality of spousal rape, the situation was complex: e.g. as early as 1721, Rex v Lister established a wife's right to live separately from her husband, from which follows a right to refuse sexual intercourse at least while separated (see State v Smith, 1981). Also, related charges were available, such as assault & battery; but without the victim's testimony, it is nearly impossible to prosecute. If violence became fatal, however, the State did not hesitate to hang the culprits, e.g. John Massey in 1801, William Ross in 1850, etc.

Your refusal to accept that our ancestors had any good ideas is arrogant, and implies a Panglossion view of today's crime-infested society being the 'best of all possible worlds'.

The Victorian & Edwardian view of law enforcement was really an early incarnation of the 'Broken Windows' strategy employed with such success in New York under Mayor Giuliani; an early incarnation of Skinnerian Behavioural theory of actions and consequences; an early incarnation of the Iterated Prisoner's Dilemma from game theory.

Anonymous said...

I beg pardon: my link in my post to the 'Baby P' case is Times pay-per-view. If one is unaware of the sad tale, one can start here. There is an interesting article here about the mother, showing that she was made 'wicked' rather than born. She was a victim herself, and if her life had taken a different course--if she had committed suicide at 16 we would have been moved to tears at her sad life; if she had joined the Forces, say, and turned her life around we would have cheered and been cheered. But she did what she did... And Baby P was not the first child to die so cruelly, and he will not be the last by far.

Anonymous said...

Some further examples evidencing the falsity that 'a man could regularly beat his wife and children with impunity':

1869: Edward Pullen convicted of assaulting his wife, he was imprisoned for a year and bound over to keep the peace for a further year. Note how the prosecution was driven by the wife's sister and the wife excuses her husband's violence ('... he has been a good man ... I deserved it'), illustrating the difficulty of prosecuting when the victim refuses to testify (q.v. Stockholm Syndrome).

1847: John & Henrietta Andrews indicted for assaults on their 9 year old daughter, Lucy; John was imprisoned for six months and bound over to keep the peace for a further year; Henrietta is found Not guilty.

1842: William Wells, convicted of assaulting his lover's child, imprisoned for a year. Note again that the initial driving force for arrest was that of a (female) neighbour; note also the rather 'modern' living arrangements with the woman unmarried and pregnant with the accused's child and the victim another man's child, which goes entirely unremarked.

Was it bliss in that dawn to be alive, and to be young very heaven? Perhaps not, and one can surely argue that the punishments above were insufficient to the crime (although 6-12 months in a 19th Century prison was no picnic). However, the evidence shows that one cannot--cannot--argue that wives and children were beaten 'with impunity'.

Criticise the Victorians if you will, but desist from falsely portraying them. An opinion, idea or policy is valueless if it is based--indeed relies--on lies and ignorance.

TheBinarySurfer said...


It's a sad indictment of British society now that we went from remoulding the world as a nation by making judgements on what was right and wrong, to this situation where apparently to tell one teenager not to stab another is judgemental and intrusive...

An observation; I knew a guy who went into one of the frontline public services as a VERY left-wing liberal happy-clappy type. 4 years in dealing with the scrotes (sorry; 'difficult invidiuals') that you do he strongly believed in corporal punishment and long prison terms...In short, once he had a taste of the realities of life he quickly realised his point of view was wrong.

The phrase 'pissing upwind' springs to mind...

msbrodie said...

When will you be submitting another blog?

WinstonSmith33 said...

For those of you interested in my inane ramblings I will have another post up within a week. I am on holidays at the moment.

Outreacher said...

You're on holiday? Good! At least the poor people in your care, some of the most vulnerable people in our society, those who really need all the help and support they can get - you know, the people you are paid to help - might get a break from your judgemental and insulting behaviour towards them.

Anonymous said...

Outreacher, as evidenced by our host posting your comment, like Churchill, he does not 'resent criticism, even when, for the sake of emphasis, it parts for the time with reality.' Your comment offering nothing resembling argument, I return to my theme.

Falsely portraying Victorian times prevents our learning from their experiences--successes and failures, complete and partial.

E.g. this article describes the fate of Minnie Annie Weaving, who effectively starved to death in 1933. The State obliged her family (2 adults and 7 children) to subsist on 48 shillings a week dole. Although 1.6 times the legally set minimum wage of an agricultural worker, 48/- was still inadequate, causing Mrs Weaving to sacrifice her wellbeing for her family. Tragic indeed, and civilised people should demand there be no more Mrs Weavings; but is flinging money at the problem the answer?

'Do you think we will get any tea tonight? If we're quiet we might get a bag of sweets. Don't talk too loud or get a beating.'

These sad words were penned, not in the 19th Century but the 21st, by Shannon Matthews to her brother. Shannon was unfortunate enough to be daughter to the execrable Karen Matthews. Nor are Shannon and her siblings the only victims of our too generous Welfare State:
'... Ms Bone sat smoking and sipping coffee as the little girl was violently beaten.'
'Baby Chloe, died after being admitted to hospital with multiple injuries including a fractured skull ...'
'Lois' mother Sarah, 30, a long term drug addict ... "turn[ed] a blind eye" to the abuse.'
'As the cruel killer mounted the last of a series of violent attacks on helpless Courtney, her pregnant mother was out with her latest fling.'

Surely the question is, how do we save the Mrs Weavings whilst avoiding creating the Karen Matthews--thereby saving the Shannons, Carla-Nicoles, Courtneys, et al?

In common to both women was dealing with an impersonal centrally directed bureaucracy. In one case a functionary handed over the set benefit indifferent to whether it was sufficient to the circumstances. In the second a host of functionaries handed over generous benefits, indifferent to whether the money was spent appropriately.

So, is it unreasonable to ask that mechanisms be found to devolve administration of benefits to the lowest possible level, and to try and differentiate between the Mrs Weavings and Karen Matthews?

Here the 19th Century can offer us lessons. There were the 'friendly societies' with 6 million of Britain's 7 million workers members by 1898. There were extensive charities, 700 philanthropic societies alone in London in 1869, providing aid to the needy--but not unconditionally.

It was not perfect but the Victorian model of self-help and conditional charity, had it been allowed to continue developing, might have saved Mrs Weavings and Shannon Matthews; speculative but we know the State in actuality manifestly failed both.

Anonymous said...

I agree with a lot of what he has to say and it is important that he is voicing his concerns to such a wide audience. This way we might be able to change some of the social policy that for years has kept these young people and their parents as slaves. This has been my experience personally and professionally, at my most cynical I can longer suppress the suspicion that young people like this are used as a job creation scheme for the Health and Social Care industry.

To date I have spent twenty years working in various parts of the health and social care sector. As a Nursery Nurse, Agency Worker, Asylum, Youth Offending and the baleful excuse for a service that was Connexions. I am also a trained scientist and grew up in one of this country's worst estates.

What Winston is describing is real, I could not give a stuff about the language used to describe the clients, some of them are little better than animals and need both boundaries and consequences. They do not need the insufferable obscurantism (often based on the lowest of professional expectations), of a lot of current policy, process or the social, cultural and moral relativism that I have come across in the course of my life professionally and personally and that Winston describes so well. I too have heard demented statements from Social Workers such as “I don’t have to live with rules, why should they?”. Err, you do love, it is called a framework of civil and criminal law, we all have to live with it. To be honest that is how some of the responses I have read here sound, like a lot of relativism designed to convince the bearer of his or her inherent goodness and infallibility. What we have does not work and it needs to change NOW! It is nothing less than criminal. It is because Winston Smith cares that he uses this terminology; he is utterly sickened by what he sees day in and out and so am I.

Anonymous said...

I'm a child psychotherapist who's worked in Youth Offending for the past 5 years. In that time I've had the opposite experience to the gentleman that ‘BinarySurfer’ refers to. I too believed in tough justice and longer prison terms before joining the Youth Offending Team, but in the last 5 years my eyes have been opened and my opinions transformed. The fact is that we don't work with evil little criminals, but with extremely damaged children who in 95% of cases have had the most horrendous and neglectful start to life. There's no other way of saying it, these kids have been dealt an atrocious hand in life and are simply victims of the dreadful environments they've had to survive and grow-up in. I believe that as a society, we are culpable if we don't see this reality...and if we believe we can simply lock these kids up and throw away the key. I always try to be mindful of the old adage of ‘there but for the grace of God go I’. If I had been handed their lot in life I'm certain I'd be out doing the very same things or much worse. In fact I’m often in admiration of the courage and tenacity with which they face and survive their cruel circumstances. These kids are the Baby P’s who survived…but only barely. We must stop the Daily Mail semantics, see beyond the headlines and give ourselves a reality check. We must get our empathy back for these children among us, who collectively we are failing because of this media-hyped labelling and discrimination. These are not hoodies, yobs or mindless thugs…they are damaged children, and that is the simple reality of it. I think we’d all agree that we would never treat a child with cancer or cerebral palsy by jailing them, then why do we treat mentally and emotionally ill children that way? Many other nations recognise this, and address these symptomatic problem behaviours in therapeutic settings rather than prisons…but in Britain we lag behind due to the lack of political will, borne of deceptive newspaper headlines (and a few ‘old-school’ youth offending workers who can’t see the wood for the trees). If we fail to acknowledge the real problem, how will we ever apply the correct solution? I hope we can all wake up to the facts, and begin to address the needs that these damaged children have inherited through no fault of their own!

Zenobia said...

Outreacher, it is your constant harping about "judgementalism" and suchlike and constantly mollycoddling the folks in this service that lead to this sort of thing. How are they ever going to become independent or make anything of their life if folks like you crowd round them and tell them how oppressed and victimised they are and bail them out of everything.

Anonymous said...

Is it not possible to expect young people to take responsibility for their actions without insulting or being derogatory about them?

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, is it not possible to expect young people to treat respectfully those who are trying to help them, instead of insulting or being derogatory about them?
Quote from our host's 'Generation F' (kindle edition so no page ref. but at 27%):
'Hey, Wayne,' I say conversationally. 'How's about clearing that [his messily eaten breakfast of cereal] away to the dishwasher?'
'We don't f***ing do cleaning up,' he says, dismissively. 'We're not skivvies. That's the staff's job.'

To think he owes his entire existence to the taxes that the 'skivvies' (and the rest of us) pay.

By way of comparison, from 'The Parents' Friend' (1803), quoting from Johann Gottlob Krueger's 1765 essay on the education of children:
'Yet on no account must they allow them [children] to behave with rudeness to servants, but instill into them a modest and decent behaviour toward all their inferiours[sic]'.
From 'Etiquette' by Emily Post (1922) on 'The Management of Servants':
'... it is equally inexcusable [for the mistress] to show causeless irritability or to be overbearing or rude.'
From 'Class and religion in the Late Victorian City' by Hugh McLeod citing Mary Vivian Hughes' (1866-1956) series of memoirs:
'... the one absolute taboo being on rudeness to servants.'

Anonymous said...

These blogs show little understanding of the issues raised and are based on a restricted world view that separates the guilty from the innocent, victims from perpetrators and the deserving from the undeserving poor in a simplistic and banal manner. Issues of youth crime and punishment are tackled in a much more illuminating way in a range of other sources. Though somewhat dated I recommend The Loneliness of a Long Distance Runner by Alan Silitoe and the films “Scum” and “Made in Britain” by Alan Clarke. It’s far more interesting when social institutions, systemic inadequacies and the political context of these issues are explored and to this extent I’d also suggest watching The Wire.

If you Google search Winston Smith the second link that comes up is his blog about obesity. Here he describes two over weight children in care as lardy, morbidly rotund, Jabba the hut, little elephant, delinquent hippos and behemoth. These children are in care because they have been abused or severely neglected by their families. It’s therefore unacceptable for someone paid to look after them to describe them in this way. It’s also unpleasantly childish and reminiscent of play ground bullying. It’s clear from this, and his inability to motivate young people toward change, that Winston is unsuitable for the work he is doing. His revulsion of the “underclass” and for young people generally may account for why he leeches from them in the form of this blog and his novel.

WinstonSmith33 said...

@The Child Psychotherapist above

There is some truth in what you say but it is not the whole picture by a long shot. Yes, some serious young offenders are acting out because they come from neglectful and abusive homes but not all. I assume you are only working with this cohort. Even so these young people whilst being more predetermined to act criminally still have the capacity to choose to do so or not. The reason more of them nowadays choose criminal lifestyles is that the wider society in the form of the criminal justice and education system has bought in to the idea that these young people are powerless to affect change in their lives. This philosophy has become entrenched within social policy and therefore we have ever increasing young offending rates particularly amongst the more prolific offenders. This philosophy becomes a self fulfilling prophecy thus disempowering the young people in question and condemning to a life of crime in that they pick up on this is what is expected of them. For the damaged kids they need a varied approach including psychological help but they also need punishment particularly for violent or intrusive crimes so as to deter them in the future. However, some young offenders are just criminal in that some people are just that way inclined and no amount of wishful thinking can undo the fact that some folk just dont seek to be rehabilitated. Then there are those kids who just make a few mistakes, as many of us do, and learn from them and due to their conscience and negative consequences turn their lives around.

Anonymous said...

The insults you directed at the overweight children were not young offenders at all from my reading of that particular post. They were in fact in a children's home - most likely through no fault of their own. You either don't understand the difference between a care system and the criminal justice system or you are deliberately trying mislead your readers.

I never said all offenders have been abused, I stated that all children in care have been. Under what other circumstances do you think a Local Authority would accommodate them? Youth Courts occasionally remand a child into Local Authority Care, but children's home are almost exclusively used for children in need of protection or have been abandoned.

WinstonSmith33 said...

@Anonymous directly above:

Several points:

1) First of all you are incorrect not all children in care have been abused this is a grave inaccuracy. Many teenagers in residential care are on partial care orders (Section 20 of the Childrens Act 1989) having been taken in to care with the parent's consent. The parent can withdraw the child at any time. Many of these kids are placed in care because the main parent has met a new partner and this has led to conflict with the teenager. Instead of taking the teenager in to care perhaps some kind of family mediation could instead be provided. In my experience it is often middle class people who avail of section 20 and dump their teenager in to care. Then there are those teenagers who were spoilt as little children and when they became teenagers became uncontrollable within the family home i.e. beating up their parents, absconding, being promiscous etc. etc. These kids were not given boundaries or discipline growing up
(often there was no father or an ineffective one) but were given all they wanted and demanded and thus they became feral upon reaching their teenage years. I know all of this from having directly worked with these types of kids.

2) I never called the fat kids I worked with these names directly. However, they were like hippos and were lardy and rotund. Im just telling it like it is. As an ex-elephant arsed off the rails teenager I make no apologies for using this language on my blog. It would be a different matter were I too directly taunt or verbally slag off these kids to their face. For a start they would hit you with a frying pan. However, why all the hyper sensitivity about words like hippo, lardy etc? Where is the anger at the staff that allow them to become like this by overfeeding them with crap and driving them here and there and thus depriving them of even the slightest of exercise.

3) Having worked in care, supported housing, and the Youth Offending Service (all three of these services overlap or in the language of the public sector are 'mutual stakeholders' in working with teenagers) I am in no way confused as to the difference so I would have no need to mislead people as to the differences. I am aware of them from having worked there. Have you the same experience? I dont even understand why you have made such a ridiculous accusation.

Anonymous said...

Again you show your complete ignorance of the system you proclaim to understand. Section 20 of the Children Act is not an order of any kind so where you get the idea that it's a "partial care order" I don't know. You are correct in that accomodation under Section 20 is a vonluntary arrangement with parents, but this doesn't mean the child hasn't been abused or neglected. Do you not think that a parent placing a child in care because they have met a new partner or can't manage their behaviour constitutes abandonment or neglect?

You also mislead your readers further by giving the impression that parents can simply phone social services and have their challenging teenager removed from them whenever they feel like it. Given the national shortage of foster placements and the huge cost of residential provision, this is simply not the case.

WinstonSmith33 said...

@Anonymous above.

You are the one that is ignorant. I have worked in the system. In one of the care homes I worked in regularly we had a board with the names of the children and whether they were on a full care order or a partial one (in accoradance with both section 31 and section 20 of Children's Act 1989).

Below I provide a quote from the National Teaching and Advisory Service who provide a synopsis of what it means to be on a partial care order. Perhaps, you will believe them. I can provide you with the link if you like in case you believe I am making it up:

"Accommodation - Section 20 Orders

Some children are looked after by the local authority by agreement with, or at the request of, their parents, perhaps because of problems within the family which are making it hard for them to cope. Under Section 20 of the Children Act, it is the duty of all local authorities to make accommodation available for such children in need (see below). Children may be accommodated (in residential or foster care) for a short or longer period. No court proceedings are involved, and the parents retain full parental responsibility. Their continued involvement with their children's education should be encouraged wherever reasonable."

WinstonSmith33 said...

@Anonymous above

I see now that you just resorted to pedantics.

A 'Partial Care Order' is what many of us working in the industry referred a child being in care in accordance with section 20 of the Childrens Act. Perhaps this wasnt officially sanctioned by some goons in social policy but my managers on the ground and fellow support workers used this term.

Anonymous said...

I think you may be confusing accommodation under Section 20 with an Interim Care Order (where care proceedings are in process and the Local authority share Parental Responsibility). I've not heard the term "partial care order" in 10 years of working under child care legislation and would be laughed out of the family court if I used it. It's not about pedantics, it's about being clear.

You don't need to have a meaningful understanding of the law to do good work with children in care and workers without professional qualifications like yourself can make a positive contribution. You do need to see strengths in your clients though.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, Winston takes the entire fifth chapter of his 'Generation F' to show that parents cannot 'simply phone social services and have their challenging teenager removed from them whenever they feel like it'; but he does show that parents can attempt this without opprobrium and the State will connive in the breakup of families that are not seriously problematic. Further, regarding 'national shortage ... and the huge cost of residential provision', our host's book not only repeatedly notes this but provides examples of these places going to people who have no genuine need for them or, worse, have an established history of being problem--criminal--tenants.

Regarding your pedantry: is it really so astonishing that different departments of different organisations might refer to things differently, even incorrectly? I was once in a job where hardly any of the kit we used or rules we followed was referred to by the official designation, but the jargon was organisation-wide so we understood each other regardless of where we came from.

WinstonSmith33 said...

I am not confusing section 20 with an interim care order. We just called the latter that in that the parent still had a say in the life of the child therefore we had only 'partial' responsibility for the child.

Anonymous said...

'Pain is a teacher'

At heart we are all animals of varying socio-econcomic groups but subject to base / primal urges and needs all the same.
We need warmth, shelter, food and water to survive - everything else is a bonus but not essential.
Pain and reward are basic principles that all groups can understand (look at rodents in a cage). If we are deprived of any of our basic needs we will become remarkably inventive in order to gain access to these. Human beings are genetically programmed to evolve, learn from mistakes, adapt their behaviour etc never more so when their survival depends on it.
Offenders are not getting enough pain to learn from the experience. Of course some are on a self destruct mission and will not respond to the carrot or stick but then let them get on with it - they should rot in prison and take their bad genes with them. The rights of decent people who actually have empathy for their fellows must prevail. Rehabilitation can work for some if not then stop wasting resources on lost causes. We all have choices about our behaviour - even rodents understand that simple concept. So pain is a teacher - the right behaviour should be rewarded with the cheese, water, shelter etc. Those who will not adapt - stop allowing them to drain the very life blood of a deeply caring, sophisticated and remarkable species.