What Harm Could it Do?
I had just left the bank, recently quite happy with the relief that my account was now in the black rather than red and taken enough money out to pay for my Brighton bus pass for the month, when a tracksuit sporting 15 year old ran past me.
It didn’t clock for a couple of seconds, but when I looked down at my hand, where my purse was, I realised it was no longer there. In a panic I rushed after him, even though he was lost in the crowds, and was lucky to bump into a pair of policeman who I shouted the whole story too. Yet I was told that without a full description and idea of where the little criminal went, there was little chance that they would be able to catch him. It made me wonder, if the delinquent would do the same if he had the threat of an army disciplinarily on his tail instead of some unfit copper. Would it make sense to send such young criminals to the army for some discipline or send them to a young offender’s institute?
In my town of Tunbridge Wells, many youths, including myself, had at some point participated in the discipline and regime that was instilled into everyone the minute they frog marched through a military cadets door. I learnt quickly that if I was disobedient, I wouldn’t be forced to sit down with an authority figure and explain myself, I would be made to run an assault course to the satisfaction of a grumpy sergeant. Although this sound cruel, and at the time I thought that I was being treated more than unfairly, I realised afterwards how much of a positive effect it had on my life. So would this be a better approach to growing youth crime then a young offender’s institute?
Recent statistics in Brighton alone show 497 youths were being convicted for their first offences in 2010. Nearly 116% increase from figures in 2008, in fact, within the Brighton area, first time criminals under the age of 17 have doubled in the last 5 years. Most youths committing these crimes, nevertheless, are not inclined to sit down with a counsellor and talk about their issues, agreeing with the principles that our society now has that ‘actions speak louder than words’. Teenagers are more concerned about their ‘reputation’ then ever before, with little emphasis being played on the reasons why they commit crimes and most of the time the only reason being that it was ‘cool’ or something they could mention the next time school started.
Yet after speaking to Emma Farthson, a counsellor at the Brighton Youth Offence Service, she believed that there are deeper issues at work for most young criminals and that “children’s actions stem from their emotional reaction to certain traumatic events in their past, find the trauma, eliminate it and the repetition of offence.” On the other hand the YOS, which is currently housing about 33 of Brighton’s most recent young offenders, have a success rate of about 85% in stopping second offences and no matter the achievement, this is only a small proportion of the youths that are facing criminal records in Brighton, less than 10%. And with little government funding and even smaller private investment interest in youth services, these success rates are not about to get any higher.
David Cameron’s recent speech in November 2011 on ‘education concerns’ promised new youth groups and organisations aimed at keeping ‘children off the streets and away from crime’. Yet speaking from the point of view of someone surrounded by these youths, I don’t see many of them running to the next youth meeting held in a community hall or local church, but does this mean that military camps are a better idea? Within a military camp you learn about discipline and motivation, about respect and friendship through exercises and training; with these qualities almost subliminal, with most people enjoying themselves within these times.
My proof is Shane Prentis, a good friend, actively serving in Afghanistan on his fourth tour, and has been with the army for 9 years; yet he also has the biggest youth criminal record I have seen. After his parents sent him to an military camp for a summer, he realised the changes in his confidence and discipline, “I was constantly getting pulled by police throughout my teenage years, until I got hit in the face by the army. It woke me up.”
Although most teenagers, and parents, would disagree with this view, and call it a harsh alternative to youth institutes and meeting; that the discipline and punishment dealt out by people within military camps is too rough on youths. Admittedly it is a completely different world to what most teenagers are used to these days, with video games, Face book and internet phones, there is less reliance on anything not electrical and the influence that these have can almost be detrimental on teenagers perspective on life. So the different world of a military camp could necessarily be a better teaching, allowing no phones to be used on the camp and focus to be on teamwork, discipline and action; three things that teenagers are dramatically short of in society. Speaking to Sergeant Collins of the 497 Squadron in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, he agree “youths need discipline and be taught the importance of trust and friendship, I can’t think of anywhere better than here.”
Understandably, this is not an option for all teenagers, but I believe that there are better ways of helping teenagers then ‘youth services’ set up by the government for these tasks. We can use the resources that we already have at your disposal, the army lacking in cadets and the government lacking in funds for such youth adventures. So next time a youth boldly defies the law, it might be an army sergeant breathing down your neck instead of an unfit policeman wheezing a couple of feet behind you.