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Nineteen-year-old Dan Dutt-Hemp has spent more than
three months in custody over the past year and he believes that better
intervention could have helped him resist crime
Youth crime: Call this justice?
I was only 15 when I committed my first crime. I had
already left school and was smoking quite a lot of skunk. I was always
fighting with my stepdad and my mum couldn't control me so I went to
live with my nan. Soon enough I got bored of living in a big Victorian
house with nowhere to get a bag of 'green' to calm my nerves and help me
sleep. I got so bored that one night at about 1am I decided to take a
walk down to my mum's estate in West Norwood, south east London, to jam
with my friends. On the way I saw a house with an open window. Before I
knew what I was doing, I was inside the house stealing two mobile
phones. On my way to my friend's house, I was offered £50 for them. I
accepted the money and carried on to my mum's house where I met my
friends, bought some draw and chilled out.
It didn't even cross my mind that I'd done something wrong until the
next morning when I woke up in a daze and the guilt started setting in.
I felt really bad. But it was only when I got caught three weeks later
that the seriousness of what I had done hit me.
I had to go to Balham Youth Court where I was put in
contact with the youth offending team (YOT) in Brixton. Except for
sitting in a room at the YOT office talking about the effects of
cannabis, I didn't really get any help for my drug problem. And even
though I wasn't in school and had nothing to do in the day to keep me
occupied, the courts didn't see this as a problem. Instead, I was
released into the care of the local authority and placed in various
hostels and eventually moved to a children's home in Bexleyheath.
After spending almost four months there, I was told I
had to go back to a hostel in Tulse Hill just before my 16th birthday.
It was during this time that my problems really began.
One morning I was sitting in a friend's room, rolling a spliff when a
neighbour walked past the window, looked up and started shouting racist
abuse at us. I'm half Spanish and olive skinned and I totally lost my
temper. I ran downstairs with a hammer in my hand. When I stepped
outside the front door the man was waiting with his fists clenched. He
swung for me so I ducked and swung the hammer. All I wanted to do was
scare him but I hit him square in the head. I realised I was in all
sorts of trouble so I just ran.
Someone had witnessed the incident and told the
police. I ended up getting arrested and went back to Balham Youth Court
to face charges of actual bodily harm and threats to kill. Although I
wasn't sent to custody, I was given a two-year probation anger
management sentence and 170 hours of community service to be spent doing
a carpentry workshop. It all started well but before long the woman that
was teaching me anger management left and a new person who I didn't like
as much took over the sessions. I didn't feel like I was getting as much
out of the classes so started to skip appointments.
A few weeks later, my probation officer took me off my carpentry
course. Suddenly I felt like the two things in the world that I was
actually enjoying had been messed up by the Probation Service so I lost
faith. I stopped going to my probation appointments, I gave up on trying
and I ended up in prison. I'm not pointing the finger or blaming anyone,
I know that I am responsible for my own behaviour, but I do think that
if probation hadn't changed my anger management worker and taken me off
my carpentry workshop I probably wouldn't have ended up behind bars.
The courts and the Probation Service need to talk to
young offenders to establish if they want to better themselves. They
need to be reliable and supportive because that's the one thing lots of
young people like me don't have in their lives. If they worked with
young people to help them achieve their goals there would be fewer young
people trapped in the system. As it is, endless amounts of young people
are pouring through the courts. You can't stop a young person from
committing a crime but you can try to prevent it and help them back on
the right track. By putting them on a course or helping them into work,
professionals can make a lasting difference. At least then young people
can't turn round and say they weren't offered the help they needed. If
this doesn't happen, we'll have even more 16-year-old hardened
16 May 2007