Hug a hoodie
David Cameron’s statement of the obvious about youth
crime has provoked derision from the popular press. In a speech about
the causes of crime, he said “For some, the hoodie represents all that's
wrong about youth culture in Britain today. For me, adult society's
response to the hoodie shows how far we are from finding the long-term
answers to put things right.” Already dubbed “hug-a-hoodie” by Labour
spin doctors and repeated as such by everyone from the BBC to the
Telegraph, the Conservative leader’s speech has been laughed at right,
left and centre.
Yet it is nothing but basic common sense. Dealing with
the root causes of crime is the only way to reduce crime in the long
run. Lower crime levels are the ultimate goal of any civilised system of
criminal justice. Stigmatising and stereotyping young people may make
middle-aged voters feel that something is being done. It might sound
tough to hand out more ASBOs.
It may be reassuring to crack down on knife crime. But
they do nothing to end the cycle of criminality. As Cameron said, “the
long-term answer to anti-social behaviour is a pro-social society where
we really do get to grips with the causes of crime. Family breakdown,
drugs, children in care, educational underachievement - these provide
the backdrop to too many lives and can become the seed bed of crime.”
Britain locks up more of her people than any other
major nation except America. And a major factor in determining whether
someone is likely to commit a crime is whether they have spent time in
prison. Re-offending rates are sky-high yet the media endlessly call for
more and longer prison sentences. It is madness and will only lead to
higher rates of crime. Prison creates career criminals. Keeping young
people out of prison makes sense for all of us.
A cosy agreement has been in place under the Blair
government. The Home Office has been effectively outsourced to the
tabloid media. The media create a scare. Government responds to it with
new legislation. The media invent another scare. The Government sends a
new Bill through Parliament.
Yet over the past decade, crime levels have steadily
fallen for the first time in living memory. A major reason is that the
underlying causes of crime – lack of employment opportunities, child
poverty, absence of childcare, failing schools – have been addressed by
the very same government. From watching the news or reading a paper, you
would think that lawlessness was out of control. Ministers are happy to
acquiesce in the creation of a climate of fear so that they can be seen
responding manfully. We have now reached the point where the Home
Secretary publicly blames judges for following government sentencing
Young people are most likely to be the victims of
crime. Yet their voices are rarely heard and then only as aggressors. A
society which creates an archetype of young people as criminals and
outcasts is failing badly. When it comes to discussing crime, young
people must get out of the pigeonhole and start using the old slogan:
“nothing about us without us”.
Janet Daley in the Telegraph wrote: “Memo to
Conservative leader: no substantial portion of the electorate now
believes that the problem of anti-social teenagers can be cured by love
and understanding.” She may be right about the views of the electorate.
Very few young people vote. But it doesn’t make them – or her – right
about the solutions to crime.
13 July 2006