Tuesday, 25 November 2008

JEP - Today's 'Letter to the Editor'

Edited - I think we should have a discussion about the Letter to the Editor in todays JEP. http://www.thisisjersey.com/2008/11/25/it-is-not-a-childrens-home/


November 25, 2008

From the Rev Gerry Baudains.

I AM writing independently, as a member of the Youth Court panel, following approaches by members of the public concerned about the treatment of young people in the criminal justice process.

Firstly, I’d like to offer some reassurance to those with genuine concern that, without exception, every agency and body dealing with youth and crime in the Island has the best interests and care of our young people as their first priority.

Furthermore, those agencies work together to assess the social, educational, physical and mental backgrounds of the young offenders in order to provide for their individual needs.

I have never doubted this on any occasion over the six years I have been a lay magistrate in the Youth Court. During this time, I have visited the children’s homes, La Moye prison and the Greenfields centre on three occasions. The first of these was a visit to the old site known as Les Chênes, the second was just after the opening of the new centre, the most recent today, when we lunched with the two residents.

On our first visit, the Grand Prix scheme was outlined in detail. I recall that it was a system of reward and punishment necessary to manage and contain the ‘high spirits’ of the 11 youngsters — a number of whom had recently held a rooftop protest. None of the panel members voiced a concern about the system, and there were no complaints from the youngsters working towards getting a TV or playstation in their room. I noted today that a scheme of achieving graduated levels from one to three is now in force. It looks remarkably similar.

Of great concern to panel members in 2002 was the overcrowding, for a games room had to double up as a dormitory. The building was too small for purpose; it had cramped facilities and a punishment cell which, we were assured, was used only in extreme cases of danger to residents and staff.

In all that we read and hear about Greenfields old and new, we must remember that the young people who live there have been arrested for law-breaking, mostly over and over again, often breaking bail conditions, and they pose a great danger to themselves and the public at large.

Greenfields isn’t a children’s home, it is a remand centre, a place where some excellent work is being undertaken with troubled young people, and its staff old and new deserve nothing but our highest praise.

Three years ago we admired the new facilities: the Greenfields centre is a state-of-the-art building we can be justly proud of. However, its under-use should be of great concern to all Islanders and particularly our politicians.

Something is deeply wrong: we have a system seeking to provide the best in secure accommodation and treatment of young offenders and a state-of-the-art facility which cannot be accessed by the very people who need it — those who have been sentenced to serve a period of time under lock and key.

As a panel member with responsibility for sentencing young offenders, I am ashamed that three years later we are still in the same position and cannot access Greenfields for custodial sentences, and that we continue to have to sentence youths to periods of detention at La Moye, knowing that the conditions are woefully inadequate.

Please be assured that sentencing youngsters to a period of detention is never done lightly and is a sign of failure somewhere along the line. Detention comes very much at the end of a long line of parish hall inquiries, binding-over orders, probation orders and community service orders; each one a further opportunity for the offender to start again.

All of the agencies that work with our troubled youngsters are offering therapeutic treatment — help and advice on behaviour management or misuse of drugs and alcohol, teaching victim empathy, giving educational and sporting opportunities and so on — but ultimately a youngster has to want to change and reform.

In the six years I have been on the Youth Court panel I have sentenced a few, not many, 15-to-18-year-olds to a period of detention; it has been a hard decision but I have never thought it a wrong decision, as, most usually, the needs of that young person can best be met through a custodial sentence.

The Howard League for Penal Reform has called for an end to the Youth Court as we know it, but it fails to recognise that the vast majority of youth crime is dealt with very effectively by the parish hall inquiry system and that it is only a tiny minority of our youth crime that comes before the court.

The Youth Court, with its added gravitas, can in itself be a deterrent to further criminal activity, and that is what all of the agencies, working together, hope to stem. Increasing the age of criminal responsibility from ten to 14 is a fairly obvious suggestion for penal reformers to make, but it could have dire consequences. Consider the future when a 12-year-old hotwires motorbikes and rides them dangerously on the road, without insurance, and without a licence, but also without breaking the law. Consequently he becomes unstoppable.

Finally, please be assured that the numbers of young offenders has reduced considerably over the last six years. There are probably a number of reasons, including demographics, for this drop. However, the early intervention by the Youth Action Team and the work they are doing with families has been a success story we hear little about in the media.

I’m saddened by so much uninformed and negative criticism; it really is time we started to look for the ‘good news’ stories and to give credit where it’s due. To our police and honorary police, to our probation officers and prison workers, and to all who work to reduce crime in the Island.
Le Châtaignier,
St Martin.

Have your say on this letter with the headline, 'It is not a children’s home', comment below

One thing though, I am not interested in any comments which are personal or discriminatory. This is for discussion of fact only. Anything I consider to be rude will not be published.

I do not wish to have a blog where people get personal with each other.

Those that have previously commented on this you can re-submit to this so that the comments are all together.

Remember, do not attack the person just the opinion.