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Are our youth 'fearless' thugs?

STEREOTYPED: Writer Lynette Nabbosa tackles the justice system and the marginalisation they face (Photo credit: Jamie Wiseman)

THE COMMISSIONER of the Metropolitan Police recently suggested that harsher custodial sentencing for young offenders could deter crime.

She stated that those youngsters who commit crimes "don't see imprisonment as particularly likely or a serious threat and it does not in any sense deter them from criminal activity” so the state should prioritise “protecting the public” from these youths.

It is alarming that someone in such an influential position could push the narrative that any group of young people are to be “protected from” before seeking to understand and protect their needs.

It is clear that the Met still lacks understanding regarding the needs of disadvantaged youths, because if they did, Cressida Dick would be aware that they do fear incarceration, but they also fear poverty, inferiority, lack of purpose and lack of control over their lives; which are more immediate threats that they are faced with every day.

Disadvantaged youth are offered constant reminders of their marginalisation in the form of profiling from police and even from leisurely establishments such as bars, clubs and restaurants. One could be forgiven for thinking that history is repeating itself because in the past, slaves were confined to one area on the master’s farm, which they were not to stray from as this would be deemed ‘up to no good’ and resulted in punishment.

This practice resonates with a Birmingham speaker from Channel 4’s One Mile Away documentary who, in his mid-thirties, still found that “you can’t go to town in a group because police are looking to draw [stop] you and you draw more attention to yourself, and you don’t even want that you're just going to buy some clothes”.

PICTURED: Cressida Dick

Conversely, an interviewee for this article explained that although he felt marginalised, he did not feel comfortable around middle-class people as this made him feel worse about himself. So, he found comfort in his environment, surrounded by those who related to his experiences of profiling, restlessness and living in a “working poor” household, where the honest labour of his parents barely managed to heat their home.

The downside to this is that he failed to see the “bigger picture” and adopted the unlawful behaviours which he was regularly exposed to. He viewed such behaviours not only as a means to an end, but also as protection from victimisation, poverty and idleness.

Similarly to this young man, the Met are missing the bigger picture. They expect to lock youngsters up in cages in the hopes that they will lead righteous lives upon release, despite the traumatic experiences that they will have inside and the taint of a criminal record that will hinder any future prospects.

Discussions were held with three young men who had been convicted of crimes and served five, four and two years in prison before being released. They expressed struggles with hopelessness, inferiority to their peers, unsuccessful attempts to get into higher education or employment and battles with anxiety and isolation, which had manifested in prison. As a result of the lives that they have been left with, two of them have suffered mental breakdowns.

Could it be more effective in the long-term to build bridges between young people and the successful people who they can relate to, either through age, appearance, ethnicity or sexuality etc.? Maybe such relationships could enable them to identify with safer routes to social mobility, as opposed to trying to make a “come-up” through crime. Such relationships could also be used to show young people that they have a real choice to reject being a product of their environment.

Damian Melville, Director at Melville and Daughters Funeral Directors, and Entrepreneurship Leader of the Year 2016, is an example of a business man who showed young people the options that they have through employment. He hired young men who weren’t doing much with their lives and, as a man who looked like them, acted as a role model that they could aspire to.

There is power in showing people what they can achieve by living right, rather than placing all the emphasis on where they end up by doing wrong.

There are services which are dedicated to doing so, but a relatable face could change the myth that support is available for “them” and not “us”. Disadvantaged people need tailored assistance to access support systems for financial prosperity, life skills, money management, suitable work experience and even building relationships.

Finding solutions to youth offending will be a long and complex road, but by referring to the next generation as thugs and locking them up in cages, then expecting them to come out and fulfil their potential, is a step in the wrong direction. So, Dear Met, let’s get back to the drawing board and invite a more inclusive, representative audience for a seat at the table.

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