Take Off the Kid Gloves with Young Offenders

By Jason Menard

Why do we continue to handle young offenders with kid gloves? It’s high time for the gloves to come off so that we can get a firm grip on the crime situation.

Recently many Londoners were appalled by the fact that two of three young offenders recently detained by police following a car chase had, in fact, been in contact with police over 430 times.

That’s right. 430 times total for two 16-year-olds. That’s 215 times each, on average. Now, assuming that these kids began their life of crime at 10, this means that they’ve been contacted by police an average of over 35 times a year. That’s almost three times a month!!

I’m no math expert, but I know that adds up to one heck of a failure for society. That’s not rebellion. That’s not reckless behaviour. That’s a concerted effort to one bad-ass stain on our society. You have to realize that this represents only 430 times that they’ve been contacted by the police. How many times have they gotten away from police scrutiny for their actions? Not even the most bumbling crook gets caught every time.

The third child, at only 13, also has an extensive history with the police. Presumably the younger hooligan is just beginning a life of crime – and the 13-year-old has certainly picked the right two thugs from whom to learn the ropes.

A London-based psychologist, with a marked gift for understatement, weighed in on the situation stating that “it sounds like these young people will have a high probability of continuing into the adult criminal justice system.” What he omitted to add were the words, “next week.” I think it’s safe to say that the second these kids are back on the street, they’ll be looking for ways to get into trouble.

So why let them back on the street in the first place?

Listen, I’m as liberal as the next guy and I know life can be tough. I also understand that people make mistakes and should be forgiven – once, twice, maybe three times. But 430 times? Sorry my patience has been tried, exhausted, and trampled upon. There’s a point where you’re no longer opposing the law, you’re now simply balling it up, spitting on it, and throwing it back into law-abiding citizens’ faces.

And it can be stopped. But fear has to enter the equation.

Simply put, kids aren’t afraid of consequences any more. We’ve become so hypersensitized to the plight of the marginalized that we fail to realize that we’re, in part, enabling their behaviour. After all, breaking the law is a choice – and it’s one that’s made all the more easy by the fact that consequences have no bite. Listen, you give a rat that goes down the wrong path a mild shock, it may try again. You buzz it so bad that it vibrates to its bones and it learns to fear going down that direction. We need to teach these human rats to fear going down the path of crime – the risk must outweigh the reward.

Incarceration is the best deterrent. Country club atmospheres, house arrests, or gentle slaps on the wrist don’t do anything but embolden future actions. Throw a kid behind bars, joining rapists, murderers, and drug runners, and you may scare a few straight. Keep ‘em safe from the general population, but instill a little fear for the future.

But locking them up and throwing away the key isn’t the only answer. You need to care for these offenders after the offence – and try to deter them before the offense. Mandatory counselling and follow-up visits should be a part of any youth’s sentence. Try to get at the root of the problem and then supervise them so they have less opportunity to reoffend. And make sure that kids have something to do instead of getting in trouble.

We don’t have to coddle our kids and make sure that their lives are filled with stimulation and cater to their every whim. Kids need to learn how to be bored without being destructive. However, finding ways to get kids to stop hanging out on the streets and getting involved in something productive is beneficial in so many ways. Whether it’s basketball leagues, community centres, or other projects, find out from the kids themselves what they’re looking for. Instead of them breaking the law for a thrill, help them find something else to fill the void.

There is room for compassion, there is room for leniency when dealing with young offenders. That should be the difference between children and adults – the sole difference. Otherwise, similar crimes should face appropriate consequences. Our kids are committing big boy and big girl offenses, they should face big boy and big girl consequences.

After all, if they know they’re going to be treated with kid gloves, what’s to make them fear taking their best shots?

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

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