Thursday, September 14, 2006

Tackling crime in the longer term

Last week I spent an interesting two hours in the company of the Probation Service in Bridgend.

Never an easy job, the service has to contend on occasion with the London newspapers' determination to make the criminal justice system fundamentally flawed.

Many of you will remember the Craig Sweeney case from the summer when some in the media gave the impression he was only going to serve five years in prison for child abduction and assault. In fact he was sentenced to imprisonment for life, but you wouldn't have received that impression from what you read.

Probation is certainly far harder now that it was 10 or 15 years ago, and the officers in Bridgend are a realistic and professional bunch. Of the statistics we discussed, one of them stood out more than any other - their rough estimate that about 70 per cent of offenders committed their crime as a result of drugs. This ranged from those stealing to support a heroin habit to those who became violent when drunk.

To my mind this shows the importance of making sure that, along with a robust system of dealing with these people through the court system, we also need to make sure we have the ability to treat people who are drug addicts if we really want to move them away from crime.

I also get a lot of people contacting me over youth annoyance, and until recently Wildmill was one of the areas where it was at its worst. This week I also visited the youth club on the estate and was impressed by what was being done there. Until the club opened, there was absolutely nothing for youngsters to do there. Small wonder that older residents were plagued by some of the youngsters.

Since the club opened, the amount of youth annoyance has dropped substantially. It still exists of course, but not at previous levels. Give kids a chance to do something, or better still, to broaden their horizons, to show what the world can offer, and many of them will change for the better.

Nobody seriously argues that the courts shouldn't be hard on those who commit crime. Nobody would suggest that serious or persistent offenders shouldn't be imprisoned. Certainly nobody would suggest that dangerous offenders should be allowed out of prison, and I doubt if Craig Sweeney ever will be. I worked in the system long enough to understand that some people cannot be reformed and must be taken out of society for the good of the public.

If we can divert youngsters away from crime at an early age then that is in their own interest and everybody else's. That means making sure we have enough youth clubs and facilities for young people and we do as much as possible to steer them away from drugs in the first place.

It won't end crime, but it can certainly limit it.

(Article first published in the Glamorgan Gazette)


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