Friday, 2 April 2010

More of the Same

This is Mark Johnson reformed offender and drug user. He clearly still needs a lot of help.

I have written quite a bit recently about sentencing, consequences and boundaries. This article in the Guardian caught my eye and I thought I cannot let it go without making some comment.

I am sure some of you will be thinking what the hell does he expect from the Guardian. This article is just so woolly and full of inaccuracies I couldn't ignore it.

'However much we sympathise, the fury of those who have been affected by crime should not find its way into government policy.' Says Mark Johnson reformed offender and drug user.

'Switch on the TV or open a newspaper and you will be confronted by a victim of crime.'

Not on my telly or in my papers you won't. Occasionally victims of child killings gain a lot of coverage such as the parents of Sarah Payne and Jamie Bulger. Generally, victims of crime have no voice and no influence at all with regard to the sentencing of offenders.

'Everyone can empathise with their pain, and we expect them to make angry, ill-considered demands for retribution. But their fury should not dominate the news agenda – or, worse, find its way into government policy.'

You cannot empathise with a parent whose child has been murdered. You might sympathise but you clearly cannot empathise. Angry victims do sometimes make demands for retribution but I cannot think of one example where a victims demands have resulted in draconian sentences. Public outrage may have influenced sentencing in some high profile cases but not the demands of victims.

'But when children's commissioner Maggie Atkinson recently suggested that 10-year-olds who commit crimes should not be treated as adults, and that they need a more therapeutic approach than pure containment, the justice ministry was tight-lipped and the public apparently apoplectic.
Atkinson is a professional who is paid to analyse what is happening to our children. We should listen to her and the other experts whose views are based on science, not raw emotion. She has seen that our penal system is designed to protect the public and has no real investment in changing people. So when victim support groups get incandescent at the cost of keeping young offenders in secure units, I agree with them. Some £200,000 a year is too much to spend if public protection is the only outcome and the child receives no intensive rehabilitation.'

I don't recall the public outcry this woman apparently caused. Most people thought you don't know what you are talking about and ignored her. Why should we listen to these supposed experts? Most young people, not all, who commit offences come from backgrounds where they need help. I think we are all agreed on that. What the author and Atkinson don't seem to understand is that as well as help they need boundaries and consequences. Until the so called experts ruining our rehabilitation and justice systems realise this, nothing will change.

'It is a public misconception that prisons are places where offenders go to change. In fact, HM Inspectorate of Prisons has found that more than 70% of young male offenders want to change, but 42% said jail did not provide them with the help or tools to do so.'

There is no misconception that prisons are where offenders go to change. We all know that prisons are places where offenders learn other offending skills and are likely to re-offend on release. I want prisons to be places where offenders are helped and educated or trained and early release depends on achievement. 42% of offenders didn't feel prison helped them. Now there is a shock! Not! I am only surprised it wasn't higher.

'Calm, scientific voices are telling us that when children commit crime they have not made a moral choice. They have gone too far because the mechanism that holds back their healthier peers doesn't work for them for psychological and physiological reasons.'

'Hating and containing them is easy. Both are easy vote-catchers. But these are sick children. Our object should be to care for them so that they can change and get well. Hatred is an expensive waste of public money.'

For God's sake! With this sort of view influencing and changing our justice system there is no hope. So the child that beats another has no problem with their moral code of conduct they are just sick and we should just accept this and help them. I say again, until these people understand that help has to go hand in hand with strict boundaries and consequences we will continue to see more and more violence and offending by young people. Sometimes that help and the boundaries and consequences will have to take place in custody for the protection of the public, not because of hatred and cost.


  1. You are, of course, spot on.

    Yes, we should feel a bit of sympathy with the juvenile perpetrators of crime(though never as much sympathy as we feel for their victims)as they are often the product of bad homes.

    One of the failures of the parental home of these reprobates is that they have never been set proper, consistent boundaries. Their main boundary is to keep out of the way of Dad when he's drunk. However, even that depends upon Dad's mood.

    Many schools struggle to help. All too often the school ethos is based on "inclusion" or a similar buzzword. They try to include misbehaving pupils - sorry, "students" - rather than to discipline them.

    We spend too much time understanding kids rather than showing them the way to go. I can understand male adolescents - I was one, many years ago. I would try it on at every opportunity; would do things my parents had never even heard of, let alone thought of.

    However, I had boundaries. I knew what would make my parents upset and that to get caught doing so would bring down consequences relative to the misdemeanour. I would do some things, but not others, knowing that the latter would cost me too dearly on the off-chance that I got caught.

    Some teachers feel they are not allowed to step in, and too many parents feel that they don't need to.

    Perhaps the criminal justice system needs to take the place of parents. A counsel of despair I know, but what else can we do?

  2. Mark Johnson, a reformed drug addict. I'm a reformed smoker but does that give me any authority to preach on any subject other than stopping smoking, no of course it doesn't!

    As an ex copper, however, like many reading this blog I have some very well thought through views on crime, punishment and rehabilitation.

    I was brought up by caring parents who adopted a balance of 'carrot & stick', work hard at school, treat elders with respect and always say please and thank you when the opportunity presents itself, not simply when required. If I didn't try hard at school I wouldn't be rewarded, if I broke something.....anything that wasn't mine I suffered a punishment that fitted the crime, if I was found to be lying that was considered worse than, or compounding the original offence and punishment was appropriate.

    Our prisons are overcrowded and that seems to be getting worse at an exponential rate so something society is either doing or neglecting to do is contributing to overcrowding. My belief is that our attempts at rehabilitation are appalling, we continue to educate and inform prisoners whilst inside but simply drop them back into their old environment with little or no help to avoid trouble, something they found impossible to do in the past because it was often presented as the only option.

    My belief is that we should lock the offenders up but instead of wasting all that money rehabilitating them inside, make it as unpleasant and regimented an environment as we possibly can and spend all the money we waste inside waiting for them at the door of the prison to come out. Rehabilitation can go hand in hand with punishment but not simultaneously, one follows the other and punishment remains punishment, after all it never did me any harm being sent to my room deprived of television then being brought down to discuss the matter before it being filed away in my parents personal CRO file.

    Is that too simplistic a solution?

  3. Johnson's a fake and exagerates his past to suit an agenda and make a small fortune out of pontificating to those working within the criminal justice system.

    This is why his writing is so inaccurate, he does no research and has no real experience.