Monday, April 30, 2007


'Nipping Crime in the Bud'

Tony Blair's article in the Daily Telegraph last week indicated, once again, the significant shift on thinking on law and order which has taken place in government, is very controversial but which is likely to survive for some years to come. Blair notes that crime has fallen during his time in power(official estimates say 44%); that the prison population has increased by 20,000 and that sentences have got longer. However he also notes that people have been reluctant to believe this:

But for many people it simply doesn't feel like that. This is because our feelings of safety or security can't be measured by statistics alone. If there is an air of intimidation in a community or discourtesy in the way people are treated, then that creates a feeling of fear, discomfort, unease.

He explains that he had diagnosed a 'breakdown in society'-which he thought 'curable through Sure Start and the New Deal on jobs, better and improved schooling and so on'. But now he thinks he was wrong, just when David Cameron has come around to agree with him. This change of heart follows a recent visit to Moss side where he found

Ten years on, Moss Side has radically improved in schools, housing, employment. Its residents want to live there. All those I spoke to acknowledged the progress. But a small minority of "out of control" children and families still caused a huge problem, leeching into drugs and gangs. In short, the rising tide had not lifted all ships.

So they were/are both wrong: there is no 'generalised breakdown' in society: the 'overwhelming proportion of young people I meet today are law-abiding, respectful and caring'.

The reality is that we are dealing with a very small number of highly dysfunctional families and children whose defining characteristic is that they do not represent society as a whole. They are the exception, not the rule. They do not respond to more investment. They do not conform to social norms.

Blair now thinks that answer is to intervene:

I now think that the proper answer is to add to the ASB laws measures that target failing and dysfunctional families early, and place those families within a proper, structured, disciplined framework of help and insistence on proper behaviour.

Such action is 'very tough' and 'intrusive', he recognises, but argues that 'for some of these families and their children, a nanny state is what they need'. I was very dubious about such an approach initially but as I've thought it through it makes more sense. Teachers, police and social workers know very well the conditions likely to create dysfunctional families with ASBO laden children transforming the lives of neighbours into hell on earth. So why not seek to pre-empt such problems by spotting families at risk and seeking to help? Having come to accept the validity of the theory though, I still retain severe doubts about the ability of the services concerned to deliver the practice with any degree of efficacy.

This is a difficult one - inevitably the discussion comes to rest on a fairly fundamental political question - "Is there always a positive and practical solution to a problem or have you crossed the threshold and are now looking at containment / punishment?"

At the risk of getting all 'right / left' on you I think there is a core who can never be reached - no amount of social spending, intervention or 'support' will turn them into good citizens.
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