Young people with experience of extreme crime and punishment on the streets of London have rejected Met Police Chief Cressida Dick’s reported comments that ‘the worst teenage criminals should face tougher prison sentences to deter other youngsters from turning to crime.’
The Telegraph reports that in a speech to the Howard League for Penal Reform, the head of the UK’s largest police force said that prison reform campaigners should consider “harsher and more effective” jail terms for teenage offenders when other approaches don’t work.
Ms Dick continued that trying to avoid sending young people to prison had left “an increasing number” of teenagers “simply not fearful of how the state will respond to their actions.”
However, young people working with the Tutu Foundation UK, a specialist charity focused on preventing and resolving conflict, have very different opinions.
21 year-old ‘Blair,’ a youth Facilitator who has experienced both harassment and been a victim of knife crime, responded: “I don’t believe punishment has ever been an effective preventative of crime.
“It actually makes the situation worse by creating an environment where it is easy to form tight knit crime syndicates or conglomerates.
“Countries with the lowest crime rates focus on rehabilitation, rather than punishment. Finland, for example, has a centre where addicts can take drugs safely, wiping out a lot of associated crime and violence.
“Countries like America, which focus mainly on the punishment of crimes, have virtually no rehabilitation and have even worse crime rates then us.”
Fellow youth facilitator, ‘Anton’ (21), added: “If we look at the number of inmates who reoffend, we could conclude that getting a sentence isn’t a worry for ‘real criminals,’ so tougher sentences probably aren’t a massive concern to them either.”
The Tutu Foundation UK is currently working with Blair and Anton through Youth Futures, an initiative founded and led by a team of young leaders, to deliver a series of Ubuntu (the South African
concept which encourages recognition of a common humanity) ‘Police Youth Roundtables.’ The project is aiming to diffuse tensions in high crime areas by encouraging positive dialogue between police officers and young people across 10 London Boroughs.
Clive Conway, Chair of the Tutu Foundation UK, concludes: “Safe boundaries and nurturing are essential for all young people growing up. Our Ubuntu Police Youth Roundtable Project is demonstrating that disaffected young people can engage effectively with their peers and authority figures in a safe environment.
“Supporting their development, self-worth and confidence are a vital part of the process. The potential is there, but more resources are needed to ultimately make prison a much rarer end-game.”