Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Riot jail sentences need new radical jail life

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Don't just lock them up, make them work inside. Jail should be about changing them.

The debate about the length of jail sentences for those found guilty of involvement and incitement of the riots has begun to take off between the doves and hawks on restorative justice. At first glance, four years for urging a riot on Facebook (but nothing then happened) can seem harsh. Writing a few words on social media can result in a sentence twice as long as actually looting goods from shops may seem disproportionate. Likewise, six months prison for stealing bottles of water can seem too much to some. However, if we are serious about puncturing the arrogant, laid back views of a minority in society who do not fear jail then these cases may start to have an effect on their attitudes. 
If the part of society that gave birth and nurtured the culture that created the looters, are alarmed at the length of sentence then the judge has succeeded in getting a message through to them. Over the past ten years, some social media users in society have become anesthetised to communicating responsibly. Especially on Facebook and Twitter, communicating has become contorted for some. What they write compared to what they would say face to face has become dysfunctional. The lonely and aloof aura as they type away on the keyboard has produced at times vicious, irresponsible and even deluded messaging. Perhaps the ‘Facebook Two’ sentences will make people stop and think that they are writing in cold reality and they cannot write anything they feel in that split second.
What is more important than arguing over the length of sentences is what goes on inside those jails. If they are holding pens and even training camps to improve the skills of robbers to rob better or increase the environment of aggression and hostility to inflame the gang culture, then those jails are failing. One British jail has a re-offending rate of 74%. That is a failed system.
As I suggested in my previous post on the riots, we need to get those prisoners out of their cells where they languish for up to 23 hours and get them working and exercising for say 18 hours.
The point of prison is yes to punish but also and this is crucial, to change that offender’s behaviour. We need people coming out of jail who will contribute back positively to society. There is no point whatsoever, ‘locking them up and throwing away the key’, because apart from the most violent crimes or severely mentally ill patients, the vast majority will come back out. We need them getting jobs and not living on benefits. We need them to have learnt from their spell in jail to teach youngsters to stay on the straight and narrow. We need those ex-offenders to be volunteering to help the local community. If they have few working skills, jail should be training them work and life skills to improve their chances of getting a job.
That is the part of the debate, which seems to be missing. Long sentences? Fine (case by case) but we need to radically change our prisons and construct a justice system that transforms wrong doers into stable, working citizens. Does Cameron have the nuanced understanding of what happened in the riots to produce that radical transformation of our prisons?
Does Cameron understand how to transform jails?

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Grim lives but squalid characters - time for hard work

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Wanted: CCTV images released by Greater Manchester Police of people suspected of taking place in looting across the city and Salford
The faces of some alleged looters and rioters
I lived and worked in North London between 2007 and 2008. I cycled for two hours each day through the streets not far from the Tottenham riots and I caught a glimpse of both proud, happy members of society and the sulky, bitter and introverted lives of others.
I lived in Lea Valley and I used to cycle each day down to Islington. I was knocked off my bicycle twice by careless drivers cutting in front of me (once without any insurance or an up to date tax disc) and both times using bus lanes and when I once tried to stop off and leave my bicycle at Tottenham Hale tube station, my bike was inevitably stolen. There were times when I saw gangs roaming around the streets with little to do but I never felt threatened. In fact, the most worrying time was being caught up in a huge crowd of Arsenal fans on the way to the ground and me pushing my bike through the crowd down the streets and realising that dangling from my rucksack was my Liverpool Football Club scarf. I got a bit of stick that evening…
David Starkey last night on BBC Newsnight proclaimed that the violence was down to a ‘black culture’ that had pervaded black and white, boy and girl. His bizarre and less than helpful idea does nothing to explain the reasons for the looting and that kind of pompous, ignorant and ‘white’ perspective will hardly help rebuild those communities scarred by the riots.
'Shopping with violence' as one commentator said
There are grim lives in some communities and that includes not just the cities but the towns and even parts of more rural areas. I have seen the pockets of hard deprivation in Shrewsbury when I was an MP. They are places where educational achievement is generally low, unemployment very high and the worshipping of celebrities and bling has intoxicated young minds. They seek a laser quick exit to their grim lives and have little discipline or role models to make them understand that through hard work they can reach for the stars. It sounds easy and it isn’t, it is very hard. There are few attractive jobs but if these young people with little self-worth (they create an artificial self-worth through gangs and wearing branded trainers, sunglasses and jewellery) can appreciate that if they truly put their minds to work they can slowly build decent, honest lives. The first job may not be up to much but if you work hard and put in the hours, go to college at night and get extra qualifications, save the little money you earn and invest in a car or a computer then over time you can get a better job and earn more money.
I know it is difficult when there are temptations around through weak willed gang members offering a quick fix. When there is no money. When the police may seemingly harass you. But watching life past by feeling constantly angry is not going to change anything.
The answers? Well for what it is worth, here is my two penn’eth:-
  1. The respect agenda needs to start consistently in every nursery school and be maintained throughout schooling. Teachers have an impossible task trying to control some teenagers and by then it is almost too late. Tolerance for others and an appreciation of everyone’s contribution to society is needed to be taught. Teaching responsibility is crucial to making children understand how they have to follow rules and undertake activities as part of growing up.
  2. The media should be urged to focus less on the minutiae of celebrity lives and more on success stories from our communities. Given the spotlight to young people who have create a business or excelled at school. To hell, with flash in the pan, can barely sing pop stars given fame and fortune. What about the quiet youngsters who put in hundreds of hours of voluntary work in communities or transform a broken down playground or simply go from ‘loser’ status to passing their GCSE’s? Media space and time should reward young people and not those who are undeserving and artificial. With all due respect, Big Brother contestants are not heroes and the slavish coverage of their lives should end. Newspaper editors should be shook up and told to stop hacking phones of private citizens and start using their powerful and influential companies to help grow our communities.
  3.  Parents should be held to account and there should be zero tolerance of the smallest problems at a very young age. The rioters and looters weren’t born rioters and looters, they became them. Some parents can’t cope with parenting. Fair enough; it’s a damned tough job at times. Some don’t have the skills to know how to raise a child. They should be offered help and when the child at the age of five is out breaking up a bus shelter, then it should the parents made to attend parenting classes. The ‘system’ should be there to help but with an iron fist in a velvet glove. If the parents don’t attend, then they should face stiff penalties. If they don’t co-operate when they do attend, they should face stiff penalties. But conversely if they genuinely learn new skills and seek to change the behaviour of their child they should be offered incentives. That should not mean money or materials goods (no gimmicks like film tickets as one bright spark tried to suggest under Labour) but rather more assistance finding work or a place doing community work with a recommendation on their CV. The focus should be on pushing children towards educational achievement (vocational and academic) and parents towards work, lifelong learning and a career path. It is changing the values away from quick ‘bling’ fixes to learning and hard work.
  4.  For those hard core, repeat offenders that are circulating through prison, the cycle must be broken and as a last resort, they need to be placed in a special facility which is a modified prison where there is very high staff ratios, high volumes of physical activities, a tough penalty system for misbehaviour and a reward system based on recommendations towards finding work after they leave. Instead of spending up to 23 hours locked in a prison cell, they should be spending 18 hours doing hard work. They should only be in a cell when they are sleeping. Some will call it a boot camp, but if it was run by ex-military staff these offenders would be placed in a tight disciplinary regime but one that recognises changed behaviour. It isn’t about scrubbing floors, breaking rocks or other boring, repetitive tasks. It is making sure that with a basic but decent diet and a huge amount of physical exercise they have no time to sit and lapse into routines of learned behaviour through gang culture. If they show an inclination to academic study they should face long hours of learning towards qualifications interspersed with the physical exercise. If they show an inclination towards vocational learning then they will be taught a trade; plumbing, painting, electrical, building and other useful skills. Doing nothing should not be an option. They should not leave without additional qualifications and an agreed plan of learning or work.
  5. For those with mental health problems in our communities, they should be under careful observation and support to identify their potential and find how they can still contribute to society whilst having intensive support and care to meet their needs. They need ‘buddies’ to help them day to day. They need counselling. They also need work. Whatever type of work that is, but still work. Studies repeatedly show that those with mental health problems function much better when they have something productive to do that builds self-confidence and self-worth and gives them a routine to enjoy each day.
  6.  We need to recognise youth workers who are paid a pittance and yet do fantastic leadership work in our communities. They live and breathe those streets and know who are the troublemakers and who have a great chance in life to move on up. They need to be given central roles in community projects and actual budgets to spend, to shake up the stale, frustrating routines in communities with innovative ways to involve young people and keep them busy. Close liaison with community leaders, teachers, probation officers, police officers and social workers should require weekly meetings to identify troublemakers, recognise the decent folk and give an impetus to being in control of those streets. Frankly it should be part of the Big Society agenda. They also should serve as an early warning system to trouble.
  7. Send those troublemakers who show improvement and are making progress, to places where there is genuine poverty (far worse than they face back home). I am not talking about free trips to sunny places to enjoy themselves but rather take them economy class to a country like Malawi and put them to work on building a clinic, classroom or planting crops. They should be sent to places a handful at a time and under supervision. Let them create something good. Let them sweat. Let them use their brain to figure out solutions to problems, where there is no builder’s merchant just around the corner. Where people are starving to death. Give them a shovel and tell them if they don’t dig a hole then that village of people will die of thirst. I’m certain that they will swallow their pride and start digging. They will receive a fantastic welcome and will receive great praise from wonderfully friendly people but there will be no hotel; they will live in the communities in mud huts and will work 16 hours a day. They will find out what it is really like to have little food and if you don’t plant crops or walk ten miles to the nearest water pump, you will die. It will leave an indelible impression on those young minds of how lucky they actually are. Two weeks sleeping on a mud hut floor, eating basic rice provisions and working hard to build a school may just puncture that swagger and arrogance.
Kanyopola in Malawi, 2002 during famine
For those that say, 'we shouldn’t be spending money on these troublemakers', well guess what, we already are spending money on them. We spend billions on welfare and placing them in prison. It costs up to £140,000 per year per young criminal.

It is time to spend a little on strengthening core values in society:
  • Zero tolerance of bad behaviour
  • Teach respect and responsibility throughout life
  • Invest in youth and community workers
  • Reward academic and vocational achievement
  • Put the media spotlight on youngster success stories
  • Focus energy, time and money on making people work, work and work
  • Push the troublemakers into seeing and feeling those starving to death
  • Introduce new facilities to make criminals work 18 hours a day and they don’t leave until they have shown real progress in attitude by learning a new trade or achieving academic qualifications
Malawi 2002 - hope with clean water

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

21st century greed, disrespect and consumer society

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London riots day 3: A property on fire near Reeves Corner, Croydon
The riots sweeping across English cities over the past three years are a symptom of a section of society where rules are not respected and a belief dominates that they have no responsibilities.
There are no excuses for the violence, disorder and general thuggery on our streets. Whilst violence can never be condoned sometimes background factors exacerbate situations and can ratchet up the risk of violence. The miner’s strike on occasion degenerated into violence with men seeing their proud jobs taken from them by a cavalier management and a spiteful Government. The vicious riots in the early eighties in places like Toxteth, opened up the Police to a scrutiny, which demonstrated institutional racism. The tuition fees demonstrations, which were initially peaceful became violent and were ignited by the genuine worry over tripling of fees and a lifetime of student debt. Again, there was still no excuse for violence with police officers being hurt and even murdered for example, on the Broadwater Farm estate riot.
Yet, the summer riots of 2011 are different. Young people will sometimes be unhappy and demand that society give them more respect but what we are witnessing are a tiny minority of typically young people going out at night to rob and destroy property. They are engaging in anarchism where they don’t want to be part of English society and want to impose a set of selfish values where their greed and disrespect for the law means they feel they can act with impunity.
Map showing riot locations
Since 2008, we have discovered greedy bankers bringing  the economy to its knees, Members of Parliament stealing from taxpayers by false expenses, elements of the tabloid media hacking their way through people’s private lives and those same newspapers bribing corrupt police officers.
The common factors? They all felt they were above the laws of the land and they could feather their own nests. In the case of newspapers they want to sell more newspapers and beat the opposition to a story anyway they could. Ultimately, I am sure some journalists and private investigators were motivated by greed and enjoyed extra bonuses and cash for ripping exclusives off private voicemails.
UK riots: Daily Telegraph
Society needs to face up to this disintegration of society in some quarters. We need to stamp out corruption and put greed back in its box. Today like every other day 30,000 children around the globe have died from lack of clean water, food and medicines. A sense of perspective and a global outlook of those not as fortunate as ourselves needs to be understood to temper human weaknesses. We need to be taking care of our elderly relatives. We need to concentrate on getting to know our neighbours. We need to wind down our demands for more money and more material goods. It isn’t always easy when our TVs, newspapers, glossy magazines and the Internet are filled with the urging to get rich quickly through short cuts of appearing on ‘docusoaps’, the X-Factor and the other hundred shows and brands.
London riots front pages: The Guardian final
Yet those in power who are role models need to clean up their acts and demonstrate to the young people that there is a better way to lead their lives where they can contribute to their communities and not destroy them.
What kind of Britain do we want? If we don’t get hold of those youngsters out on the streets and instil the rules of society to show them the honest opportunities, then we will have another generation like Thatcher’s children who will create torrid estates of hate, filth and mayhem. We can turn our backs and move to nice neighbourhoods but ultimately the disorder and dysfunction will eventually catch up with us.
A new discipline is needed in communities, schools and at home to demonstrate zero tolerance for wanton destruction of property and to teach them respect to others. We need to create opportunities for business to thrive by making it easier for entrepreneurs to create wealth. Those young people can be the next generation of bright business people but they need clear rules as well as plenty of support.
The streets are burning but it will end and hundreds will face the consequences. It is stupid to think that you can run riot and steal TV's in high streets and not have you photo taken. The police should systematically examine the evidence and put together the cases for the CPS to prosecute through the courts. Examples should be made. If someone gets six weeks for a custard pie in the face of Rupert Murdoch then rioters should be facing very tough punishment.
Tonight though, it is time to rally around and support the police take back our communities.

Friday, 5 August 2011

Gaddafi's son's desperate pleas point to Rebel victory

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After months of decrying the democratic rebellion in Libya as an Islamist plot, Gaddafi’s son, Saif now gives an interview urging that the extremists should support his father. Here is another reason to get rid of Gaddafi where a secular state will be replaced by a puritannical, radical state of religious madness.
NATO and the West must continue to support the Rebels and step up training and weapons supplied to them. If Gaddafi was serious about a ceasefire that would lead to a stable peace then it should be genuinely considered but he is an untrustworthy snake who will not abide by any ceasefire terms and will inevitably seek to overthrow an Eastern half of a democratic Libya.
Another of Gaddafi’s sons has been proclaimed deadKhamis was a key military leader in charge of 32nd Brigade and has seemingly perished in a NATO airstrike. However, this was denied in Tripoli. It may be taking much longer than originally thought but Gaddafi’s infrastructure and military command and control is systematically been destroyed.
It is difficult to accurately assess the progress of the war. After the crazy first few weeks following NATO involvement when the Rebels were pushing back there followed months of stalemate with each side losing and then winning ground in a see saw backwards and forwards over the same ground in Ras Lanuf, Brega and Ajdabia. In the East, the inhabitants of Misrata suffered a brutal onslaught besieged day after day and yet their strength eventually and steadily broke out of the enclave and reinforced the belief that the upper hand was with the Rebels.
Rebels are slowly pushing Gaddafi's army back
The war could be over quickly, if NATO allows commanders to train the Rebel forces and modernise its equipment and weaponry. There is no sense in offering minimum air strikes and keeping fingers crossed that the Rebels will get to Tripoli. They will get there, but how many more have to die before they succeed. A swift, uplift in support by NATO could overwhelm Gaddafi's remaining forces and once a momentum builds the army will collapse into the desert. That doesn't mean it will be easy but a clear tide of support for the Rebels will swing the majority onside. Once the Rebels are in Tripoli and can demonstrate that they are fair, and just the vast majority will then begin to trust them and the fighting will end. Only then, can Libyans start to rebuild their country into a prosperous nation with a strong economy and a great future for today's sons and daughters.

News of the World reporters hacked other newspapers

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News of the World banner
The story of phone hacking goes on. No doubt the public are probably pretty bored by the whole story now but it has only just begun. It could take a couple of years before the civil cases are processed and the potentially scores of criminal cases are assessed and those with sufficient evidence prosecuted.
However, it has emerged that the News of the World was not just hacking politicians, celebrities, business people and the sickening hacking of Milly Dowler’s and service people’s phones but also other newspapers.
The News of the World hacked at least five reporters’ phones on the Mail on Sunday and it is very likely that other newspaper journalists and their private eyes were hacking into other newspaper journalist’s phones. The goal? To scupper ‘exclusive’ stories and by gaining insight into what other reporters knew in the race to piece together the jigsaw of top news stories. Sometimes they simply stole the story and broke it, before their rival.
Now you could think, well, what difference does it make? It doesn’t seem to be as important as hacking into private individuals’ phones and that is true, but it shows yet again the lengths that some of them went to secure a story or a nugget of information to try and outflank their rivals. How many private sources to genuinely important stories were ‘outed’ or betrayed?
There is much more to come out about what else these reporters and their private eyes were up to. My case file is growing and next week we will present further information to the police. I trust that they will continue to take it seriously (unlike the first time) and cross check it with the evidence seized so far. 
Glenn Mulcaire
Glenn Mulcaire
However, they are still only half way through reviewing Glenn Mulcaire's evidence and have only added around 40% of the seized electronic records from News International on to their computer database. For the hundreds of victims, the wait goes on.