The aim behind this essay is to ascertain the stance adopted by the UK in terms of how governmental and judiciary authorities deal with the problem of juvenile crime. In order to gain a fuller understanding of this it would be of interest to compare the perspectives of two different political leaders and how they affected the way that juvenile crime was dealt with by authorities.
On one particular weekend in August 2011 thousands of rioters took to the street and ransacked high streets in London, Manchester, Croydon and Nottingham. The original cause of the rioting was due to a shooting in Tottenham by police but it seemed to spread over the capital and on to other major cities. Shops were looted and others were burnt down over the course of a week. As a result of this, David Cameron was quick to ascertain what the causes of these riots could be. In a press conference, he suggested that:
Social problems that have been festering for decades have exploded in our face….Our security fightback must be matched by a social fightback (Cameron: 2011)
Such was the stance eventually taken by the Coalition government as a response to the riots. A similar statement had been famously stated by Tony Blair fourteen years earlier where he specified in his election speech that Labour believed:
‘in personal responsibility and in punishing crime, but also its underlying causes – so toughon crime, tough on the causes of crime’ (Blair: 1997).
However, the question remains as to whether these two politically differing views really are so different from each other. The rhetoric seems to be the same. That is, in order to be tough on the crime that it would be necessary to discover the root cause of the crime committed. The question has to be asked as to how far the existing legislation go in achieving that.
According to a recent governmental report on the Youth Justice Service, ?800 million was spent on dealing with young people over the previous twelve years. Also, while 10% of that figure was spent on prevention, approximately 90% was spent on actually dealing with the offending behaviour (Soloman and Garside: 2008). Critics had seen this as a symptom of what had been wrong with Labour’s policy regarding the Youth Justice system.
Indeed, the same criticism can and has been levelled at the Coalition government judging by their initial reaction to the 2011 London riots. David Cameron famously condemned the riots as being caused by pure criminality and nothing else. It was only after the initial reaction that the Government had stated that a ‘social fightback’ (Cameron: 2011) was needed as much as the ‘security fightback’ was. However, the Government’s initial reaction was soon mirrored by other members of the public and there was seen to be a lack of analytical reaction from anybody apart from a few. According to Ohana and Otten (2011):
Except among a few youth experts and political commentators on the so-called ‘left’ there was little mention of or analysis involving the racist shooting that triggered the violence in the first place, or the desperate condition of the neighbourhoods in which many of the young people who rioted live….Most importantly of all, there was next to no mention of the fact that whole generations of young people have simply been abandoned to the elements by an uncaring state, unwilling to see its own responsibility in creating the conditions that have made such events possible (Ohana and Otten: 2011: 244).
This view corresponds with other views which also specify that it ought to be no surprise that the media and public reaction to the riots were non-analytical in their scope: Hughes (2011) specifies that:
It is of little surprise that the perceptions of the public appear to resemble those presented by the media and politicians. Rather than the official crime figures, it is the stereotyping and emotive headlines that seem to have the greatest influence.’ (Hughes: 2011: 190)
On the surface, this may appear to be an obvious statement to make. After all, it could be argued that the public’s reaction to the riots were understandably affected by the media coverage both during and after the riots took place.However, critics were also understandably concerned that the Government had employed a kneejerk reaction but then delayed in deciding exactly what was to be done about it (LSE and The Guardian: 2011: ‘Reading the Riots’)
There was a similar response to crime in general by the Labour opposition before they took power in 1997. Blair’s Labour had responded to a resurgence in crime on the streets at the time. According to Raine and Keasey (2009), they had attempted to address the problem of crime on the streets by attempting to get at what they perceived to be the source. Numerous programs were suggested and installed once they got into power, including Surestart centres and the New Deal for the unemployed. Raine and Keasey (2009) suggested, however, that these measures only went so far in addressing the issue (Doolin: 2009: 126-127) of youth crime. It would seem that this also backs up the figures quoted earlier regarding the percentage of money spent on prevention (10%) as opposed to the money spent on catching, trying and detaining criminals (90%). It could be argued that the amount of money spent on each reflects on either the priority given to prevention of crime of respective governments or on an increased criminality in the general populace. Again, this is a stance that is maintained by Sanders (2011) who suggested that because New Labour were essentially ‘governing through ASB (anti-social behaviour)’ that there was:
An ever-increasing share of a decreasing government budget being spent on criminal justice, prison and police in particular (Silvestri: 2011: 12)
This could be argued to show that New Labour at the time were more willing to spend money on surveillance of crime and criminals but they were not always willing to pay for maintenance of prisons, supply of police officers and the infrastructure of the criminal justice system.
However, there was much emphasis from the New Labour government on focussing upon the youth which, according to Coles (2012), had only been a focus for different governmental departments pre-1997.Coles (2012) states that the Blair administration was the first to have a Ministry and department (Social Exclusion Unit) specifically for young people to address the NEET problem (Alcock et al: 394) and thereby address the problem of anti-social behaviour. It was for this reason that the Connexions service was set up
Furthermore, the same could be said for the Coalition’s policies regarding criminal justice. Austerity measures were talked up as being the reasons behind the cuts before the riots. However, it could be argued that some of the cuts regarding youth justice and its appendages were made too harshly. Those things that matter to individuals such as education and health are being cut back and this in turn has triggered off the mentality that was inherent in the riots. According to Will Hutton, as quoted in Ohana and Otten(2011),:
We are arriving at a major turning point in our national life. It is not enough to talk about being tough on crime and the causes of crime. We need an entire root and branch reshaping of our economy and society – where both rewards and punishment are judicious proportional and deserved, and all within a revived and larger understanding of fairness….We need good capitalism and the good society that accompanies it (Ohana and Otten: 2011: 245)
It remains to be seen whether this present Coalition government is going to do anything about the ‘root and branch’ causes behind youth crime in general and last year’s riots in particular.The mixed messages given out by the Government seems to indicate that they will be just as tough on the causes of criminality as they will be on criminality itself. Given the track record of the previous government regarding equality of expenditure between the punishment of crime and the prevention of it, this Coalition government may have a job on their hands in balancing the two.Reference List
Blair, T (1997), ‘New Labour because Britain deserves better’, The 1997 New Labour Manifesto, Available at http://www.labour-party.org.uk/manifestos/1997/1997-labour-manifesto.shtml
Cameron, D, (2011), ‘PM’s Speech on the fightback after the riots’, Monday 15th August 2011, Available at http://www.number10.gov.uk/news/pms-speech-on-the-fightback-after-the-riots/
Coles, B (2012), ‘Young People’, IN: Alcock, P, May, M, Wright, S, (2012), ‘The Student’s Companion to Social Policy’, 4th Edition, London
Ohana, Y and Otten, H, (2012), ‘Where do you stand?: Intercultural Learning and Political Education in Contemporary Europe, Wiesbaden, Springer Fachmedien, Germany
Raine, J and Keasey, P (2010), ‘Introduction: The Changing Politics of Law and Order’, IN: Doolin, K et al (ed.) (2010.), ‘Whose Criminal Justice?: State or Community?’, Waterside Press, Hook, Hampshire, England
Rusbridger, A, (2011), (ed.), ‘Reading the Riots: Investigating England’s summer of disorder’, The Guardian, The London School of Economics and Political Science, Accessed at http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/interactive/2011/dec/14/reading-the-riots-investigating-england-s-summer-of-disorder-full-report
Sanders, A (2011), ‘What was New Labour thinkingNew Labour’s approach to Criminal Justice’, IN: Silvestri, A (ed.), (2011), ‘Lessons for the Coalition: an end of term report on New Labour and criminal justice.’ Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, The Hadley Trust, London
Soloman E, and Garside, R, (2008), ‘ Ten Years of Labour’s youth and justice reforms: an Independent audit, Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, The Hadley Trust, London Available at http://www.crimeandjustice.org.uk/opus647/youthjusticeaudit.pdf