THE END OF AUTHORITY; Parents, Police, Social Workers, Courts - Will NO ONE Take Control?

Article excerpt

Byline: MELANIE PHILLIPS

JUST in case anyone doubted that youth crime is out of control, a new survey illustrates the alarming extent of the crisis. Findings from the Government's Youth Justice Board indicate that, on their own admission, a quarter of schoolchildren have committed a crime during the past 12 months.

Nearly two-thirds of children who were excluded from school have committed a crime, with expelled pupils each committing on average 44 offences in the past year.

The vast majority of these crimes are undetected; even if young offenders are caught, the criminal justice system seems all but paralysed. No wonder even the liberal intelligentsia is losing its customary insouciance.

The artistic polymath Jonathan Miller, enraged by graffiti daubed for the second time on the houses in his London street, identified his tormentors as 'feral children'.

One might demur at such language, but this is not simply a crime wave.

It is something much more fundamental: a deep fracture in the basic socialisation of children on which an orderly society is founded.

The cause is nothing less than a collapse of adult authority and responsibility at all levels. Family, schools, police, the courts, the so-called caring professions - all are increasingly turning their backs on children, refusing to meet their primary need for unambiguous signals, firm boundaries and a set of moral, emotional and intellectual route-maps to help them make their way through the world instead of declaring war upon it.

Knives Perhaps the most important signal that authority is in ignominious retreat is the absence of the police from the streets. In the doomed investigation into the murder of Damilola Taylor, the police were aghast to discover how much child crime there was in Peckham, South London, where the killing took place.

Every crime known to man was flourishing there among children: protection rackets, prostitution rings, drug dealing, robbery, knives, the lot. The horrifying point was that the police were astonished.

Officers had no idea about the crime on those streets because they had so comprehensively retreated from them. Such a wholesale withdrawal demonstrably leaves them unable either to prevent or detect crime. But it also does something even

worse.

It transmits the most powerful message imaginable to children that adult authority is literally absent. The disappearance of the visible manifestations of law sends a signal to children that if they terrorise a neighbourhood, no adults will challenge them.

That is why the remarks made by Kent's Chief Constable Sir David Phillips, that community policing was an Enid Blyton fantasy, were so breathtakingly maladroit.

With their withdrawal from the streets, the police have not only destroyed their own function and purpose but undermined adult authority over children in general.

For those few child offenders who are actually brought to court, the system is grotesquely inadequate. It is buckling, particularly in London where so much crime is committed, and young hoodlums know it.

Delay Witnesses disappear, the police and Crown Prosecution Service don't work well together and delay is endemic.

The London prosecutors are of a particularly poor standard, and magistrates often have to adjourn proceedings because the prosecution isn't ready.

So for a streetwise young thug, there is every incentive to play the system and exploit the rules of the adult game by pleading not guilty and walking out through the criminal justice revolving door to commit still more crimes.

Juvenile justice is run better in Scotland, where panel hearings for less serious crimes enable young offenders to be dealt with promptly according to their juvenile needs, rather

than take the adult justice system for a ride. …