Half of all Asbos are breached by teenagers, who see them as a badge of honour, according to a report released last week by the Youth Justice Board. Also last week the Blairite Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) published research showing that British teenagers are by far the worst behaved in Europe. On every indicator — drug abuse, drunkenness, promiscuity, early sex and teenage motherhood — they come at or close to the top of the list. .....
Imagine that you are a boy of 15 called Kelvin. You are bright, good looking and strong and you live on a nasty inner-city council estate next to some of the richest streets in London. Your father disappeared long ago, and your mother lives with your two younger sisters in a flat on the same estate, but for some reason you and your younger brother live on your own in a separate flat.
Mum is nice enough but she has a violent temper, especially when drunk or high, and used to slap you about until you got bigger than her. She works nights in a bar, so she’s usually asleep during the day. There are no meals ready for you, almost no affection or advice, no laundry done for you and quite often no money for you. Things have been this way for almost as long as you can remember. It’s frightening sometimes, and it’s always lonely. So you hang out with your friends, looking for something to do. You see rich boys driven about in big cars by their loving mummies, sporting expensive trainers, iPods and mobiles. ..........
At your bog standard comp, the lessons are boring, constantly disrupted, and most of the kids don’t speak English. With some of the most outgoing and energetic kids, you bully others, steal dinner money, bunk school and get suspended. You’ve been doing drugs since you were 11, and now you’ve started dealing. It can get violent, but you’ve got leadership qualities — aggression and charm — and you begin to discover the arts of enforcement by terrorising younger children. Soon you are doing a little mugging and thieving; then you’re casing rich people’s houses for older thieves, and in a year or two you will get a couple of girls pregnant. A bright, attractive, energetic boy, you are neglected, illiterate, and almost completely unsocialised. You have been formed for crime. This is a story that could be told again and again. It is close to some stories I know personally. There are worse versions, like the fate of children in so-called care, who are moved on and on like poor Jo, the crossing sweeper in Dickens’s Bleak House, from one hardship to another, and finally dumped into the so-called community by social services when they are still teenagers. I have felt extremely sad for the few such boys I have known, even as they abused our hospitality or terrorised the little children in the communal garden, and I have even felt tempted to hug them. It is so entirely obvious that they have been deprived of the loving care that is essential to self-respect and respect for others.
I am no bleeding-heart liberal, yet I do strongly feel that punishing these children — monstrous though their behaviour may be — is rather irrelevant. To understand is not necessarily to forgive, but equally to blame is not necessarily to solve: about 66% of prisoners reoffend and they are only the ones who get caught. .............
Source: The Sunday Times, Nov. 05, 2006

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