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Repeal Criminal Justice and Immigration Act (chapter 4)

Comment 7th July 2010

Chapter 4 of this Act makes particular reference to the sentencing of children who have come to the attention of criminal justice.  A primary objective being to 'prevent further offending' by the child. Although most would accept this is an honourable objective, we have to question the extent to which imposing local authority criminal justice interventions achieves this objective?   This act brings more and more children into criminal justice services, sometimes for very minor violations of the law and behaviours which would be much better addressed by family, schools and local communities, not criminal justice professionals as this act dictates.   

On the basis of 'prevention'  the act justifies immediate interventioninst orders being implemented (Referrral Orders) upon children for some very minor behaviours which could be, in many instances considered part of the normal cycle of adolescent development. Referral Orders require the involvement of criminal justice professionals making 'risk assessments' on the young person, their family and social circumstances and predicting what the risk of their future engagement in crime will be.    The development of these risk assessment tools has a very poor basis in scientific research, the extent to which policy and law makers have been convinced by flawed methodological studies is phenomenal and it appears to of justified a massive net widening of children into the criminal justice system, as well as being a heavily bureacratic process, hence reducing the actual time practitioners can spend with children. We remain with one of the highest incarceration rates of children within Europe and it seems many people are employed via the public purse to keep it this way, with this legislation dictating the processes that should be followed.  Legislation has evolved from the erroneous conception of risk assessment tools! How predictive are risk assessment tools really? To what extent could it be argued that the process imposes a very damning label upon developing adults, which could influence future behaviour?   What kind of society locks up children in order to teach them appropraite behaviour?  Incarceration increases risk, it does not reduce it, interventions requiring risk assessments increase risk whilst spinning a rhetoric of reducing it.   Fact; less children re-offend when warned than when inteventionist orders are imposed.     Some children will require intervention but not the current numbers that come into the system and getting it right is important.

It is a fact of life that young people push boundaries, that they will experiment and that they will take risks, they will also learn from experience and from the adults in their community who teach them to behave otherwise.   Risk assessment tools are fault finding exercises which undermine and minimise the scope for change within the developmental process.  These tools then influence sentencing outcomes, as is dictated within this legislation, sentencing lengths will be imposed in terms of the 'risk a young person is considered to present' rather than a sentence considered proprotional to the crime. Breach action is required if the young person does not attend with the frequency dictated and this can also lead to custodial sentences being imposed.   It is a sad day for justice when the opinions of professionals using flawed risk assessment tools influence sentencing more than the gravity of the crime they may have committed.  Save your children from this legislation, get rid of it!

Why does this matter?

Because we consider ourselves to be a civil society.   Civil socity does not lock up children it teaches them how to behave properly, informing and advising parents appropraitely so that they may take responsibility for their children.    Civil society does not utilise fault finding assessment tools with a flawed scientific basis to place a damning label upon children.  Civil society does not sentence on the basis of opinion (perceived risk), but on the basis of the gravity of the crime, the age of the developing child and to support better behavioural outcomes in the future (if indeed, we need to sentence at all, or just employ common sense and get the child to make amends and avoid expensive court processes).



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