Saturday, January 23, 2010

They've been condemned. Now they must be understood.

This case was simply appalling:

A judge sentenced two young brothers who beat and tortured another pair of boys to indefinite detention today, as the head of child protection services in their home town apologised for the way staff had failed the public in the case.

The brothers, now 11 and 12, carried out "appalling and terrible" assaults on their younger victims after leading them from a playground to waste land in Edlington, South Yorkshire, in April last year, Mr ­Justice Keith told Sheffield crown court.

The cruelty the two youngsters carried out on another two children left one feeling staggered. Staggered that children could visit such wanton cruelty on other children.
They led the victims, then nine and 11, to waste ground and subjected them to a 90-minute ordeal during which they were robbed, beaten, stamped on, struck with bricks and other objects, choked and burned. They also endured a series of humiliations, many of them sexual. The older boy almost died from his injuries.
And yet, the children who carried out these evil acts were only 11 and 12. I thought the judge was especially lenient in sentencing them to a minimum of five years in prison, although I note that their sentences are indefinite, meaning that their release will be based on the danger that they are deemed to represent to the public.

One obviously finds it very easy and natural to condemn the violent actions of these two, but the real challenge now is what to do with them.

As with Robert Thompson and Jon Venables - the two young boys who brutally murdered James Bulger - the challenge now is how to rehabilitate them.

The Independent today has a very interesting article on how one goes about that difficult process.

So that is not where mental health experts start when they get such children into custody. "Psychiatry and psychotherapy do not produce a magic bullet inside secure units," says the criminologist Tim Bateman of the University of Bedford, who is also youth crime policy officer for the crime reduction charity Nacro. "It's first of all about providing a structured and nurturing environment to compensate for the normal childhood they never had."

Dr Vizard, who also worked with the young Bulger killers – Robert Thompson and Jon Venables – agrees. "One of the main therapeutic agents is the stability of the place," she says. "These children are taken away from disrupted backgrounds, with no boundaries, and dangerous adults, and are put somewhere where they are safe, fed and housed and told No by people who understand how to set limits. It's tough love. It's a great skill, creating an experience that approximates to a proper family life."

One professional who did that at Red Bank secure children's unit on Merseyside, where Jon Venables was detained, was Pam Hibbert. "Children whose lives have been lives in chaos feel profoundly unsafe," she says. "Their offence is often a mask for their own vulnerability; if you get in first, they think, you won't get hurt."

So first you make them feel safe. "You give them someone they feel is interested in them," she says. "For some it's their first proper relationship with an adults and that milieu is as important as any therapy. And they can shift from being kids who are difficult to handle to kids who on the whole respond very quickly."

As far as I am aware the murderers of Jamie Bulger have been reintegrated into society and are living normal lives (with secret identities) in, I think, Australia.

Our prison system is, supposedly, based on rehabilitation. Often that fact is ignored and the emphasis is placed on punishment. But the transformation of both Thompson and Venables should give us faith in the power of detention, when properly administered, to bring about meaningful change.

The biggest single factor, outside normalising the young offender's relationships with the unit's staff and their fellow inmates, is education.

"It is the tool which opens up a young person's confidence in themselves and awakens them to the possibility that they can achieve something while they are detained," says Roy Walker, who ran Sutton Place, the secure unit in Hull, until it was closed, like many others, to cut costs. He is the outgoing chair of the units' umbrella group, the Secure Accommodation Network.

Inside the secure units, high-quality education is provided continuously apart from a fortnight over Christmas and New Year. It is not easy work. "These kids often begin with a very negative attitude saying they can't do schoolwork and won't try," says Tim Bateman. But the staff remain relentlessly positive. "Our students have a lot of catching up to do, particularly on literacy and numeracy," Roy Walker says.

Professionals and researchers have no doubt of the value of this work. "These children often begin to respond very quickly to education," says Professor Boswell. From being the barely literate underdog in a family of seven brothers, where his older siblings picked on him brutally, Robert Thompson passed five GCSEs and several A-levels and developed a strong interest in design and fashion. Jon Venables passed seven GCSEs and did A-levels too – a level of attainment that neither could have achieved before their arrest.

One of the youngsters who carried out this awful crime is reported to be so emotionally detached as to be almost psychopathic. Perhaps it's too late to bring about any change in him.

But we must try. Despite the horrendous crimes they have committed, they are themselves children.

And the transformation carried out on Venables and Thompson show us that miracles like this can occur.

Click here for full article.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Keep posting stuff like this i really like it