Some interesting announcements from David Cameron and Justine Greening on youth crime figures, earlier this week, which might make the case for hugging a hoodie! The figures deal with situations where young people are the victims. The data is particularly interesting as it is the first time that I know that the figures have been collated, and the announcement is the result of weeks and months of hard work from Justine, in particular through Freedom of Information requests of various police forces nationwide.
Currently the Government doesn't collect this data as it doesn't talk to young people about their experiences with the criminal justice system, or where they have been a victim of crime. Additionally with a fairly low reporting rate, much of this is going undetected.
Reports of the announcements were made on the BBC, as well as in a number of papers, including the Sun. These figures suggest that 600 kids are mugged each school day, considering that (on Government figures) 8 out of 10 robberies are never reported.
Young people are an easy target for robberies as they are likely to have I-Pods, mobile phones and other computer games and valuable items. With a high chance of becoming a victim, many children respond by blending into the background - wearing a hoody - and saying "you don't know if I am a potential victim or a potential attacker", and hoping that they won't become the vitcim of crime. Unfortunately for adults, this leads to an increased fear of crime when passing large groups of kids, and a demonisation of children.
As someone who sees first hand the consequences and effects of youth crime in my role as a barrister, this is an area that I find particularly interesting. It is however vital that perpetrators are brought to justice, but without criminalising childish behaviour. I recently had a kid charged with robbery - of pokemon cards - when he had failed to return the cards to another child in the playground having snatched them off him. Robbery is a serious charge with life imprisonment as the ultimate punishment. Let's make sure that our response to youth crime is balanced and measured.
Many people may not know that the guideline for a mobile phone robbery, even where a first time offendor aged 15 has pleaded guilty is 18 months custody. When the property is recovered, and the force used is minimal this can be particularly harsh, especially when the child is at school. Putting young people into prisons should be avoided at all costs, and used where it is necessary and proportionate. Sometimes that does mean hugging a hoodie - after all they may well be the victim in all this!
I wish the Government would spend more time telling people that if they rob mobile phones, they will go to prison, rather than telling the public not to use their phones in public places, and to hide it away.
Havering Conservative Councillor, Gary Adams, (where I started out with CF, and where I was brought up) has recently written to Commander Sultan Taylor, who has responsibility for policing in Havering on this very issue. I am sure any response will be posted on his blog.