Please note not all views expressed in the film and on the blog necessarily reflect the views of coalition members.
The self-fulfilling prophesy that's doubled our prison population,
demonised our young and costs us billions...
Welcome to the Fear Factory

Friday 29 January 2010

Chance UK

Like many other partners in the Fear Factory coalition, Chance UK is part of the early intervention movement which is the future of the fight against crime.

We want to protect the future victims of crime by reducing the number of 94,000 children who enter the youth justice system every year. Because this number will clearly lead to a lot of future victims of crime.

We all know that prevention is better than cure. It is easier, cheaper and quicker to prevent someone turning to a life of crime than it is to help them turn away from it. It saves the massive financial, social and emotional cost that such a life will lead to.

Think of a teenage boy who is just starting a life of crime. Rewind back to his primary school years – research shows that there is an 80% chance he was showing signs of behavioural problems then. He might have been getting into fights with other children, found it hard to concentrate in class and been excluded from school several times, leaving him facing permanent exclusion from the school system.

Already low in self esteem, perhaps experiencing a difficult home life, this child will be far more likely to start spending time with negative influences in the form of older children who are also outside the mainstream school system. He will look for a sense of belonging in this group, and be happier to do whatever task the group sets for him, no matter how immoral or illegal. And once in the youth justice system, experts agree that it is very difficult to take the boy out of it, or to reduce the number of victims of his crimes.

But we can stop all this. By spending a bit of time one-to-one with the boy while he’s still at primary school, building up his self esteem and providing positive outlets for their energy and talents. It’s the everyday men and women who mentor the children that do this work, which leads to calmer children in the home, more stable families and better education not just for that child, but for all his classmates as well.

It’s up to all of us to not just change perceptions of the children, but to challenge their potential; do something practical to change a child’s future. As Ghandi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

Matt Collins
Chance UK

Monday 25 January 2010

The Youth Crime Arms Race

Politicians from all parties are engaged in an arms race of rhetoric in relation to their approach to children in contact with the criminal justice system. The media fuels the arms race with sensationalist headlines: ‘yobs’, ‘asbo kids’, ‘monsters’ and ‘evil’ have become common place, encouraging a vicious cycle in which politicians find themselves locked into increasing the punitive stakes to satisfy the appetites of the media and populist opinion.

The increasingly punitive approach that has emerged over the last 20 years, whether it be in creating more crimes, creating longer sentences, or reducing the quality of type of prison that children are sent to, have left our society in a position where we are spending £415 million a year on incarcerating children in prisons that do not work – a shocking 75% of children reoffend within a year of being released, higher than any other age group in prison.

Behind the headlines and political rhetoric lie the facts of who these children are. 71% of children in custody have been involved with or in the care of social services; 2 out of 5 girls and 1 out of 4 boys have suffered violence at home; 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 20 boys have suffered sexual abuse. Educational, behavioural and mental health problems are rife – 85% show signs of a personality disorder. The prevalence of depression, self harm and suicide is higher amongst incarcerated children that any other sector in our society – 89% of girls in our prisons deliberately self-harm and children in custody are 18 times more prone to take their own life than children of the same age in the community.

Children in prison are the product of chaos, neglect and abuse, but rather than help these children we incarcerate them, locking them away with the problems in our society we would rather not face. To continue the rhetoric arms race is both nonsensical and irresponsible. It damages these children further at an extraordinary cost to the tax payer. But it is easier to separate these children from the rest of us, to point the finger of blame and label them as an ‘other’ than to take responsibility that it is our society and its failings that has made them who they are.

Andrew Neilson
Assistant Director
the Howard League for Penal Reform

Friday 22 January 2010

The Place2Be: the case for early intervention

Most juvenile crime is committed in mid adolescence. Much of it is petty and needs no more than a firm caution and plenty of educational, work and recreational opportunities. A relatively small but significant proportion commit more serious crimes. There are various reasons for this but, regardless of socio-economic conditions, most are struggling with emotions that they can’t cope with. They are in varying degrees very angry, scared, lonely or wary, usually for good reason, and without help or understanding, they turn to crime as some form of release or expression.

The Place2Be recognises that these teenagers were young children but only a few years before – and that most of their emotional problems were brewing in childhood well before they got involved in crime. And so we believe that it makes sense to make contact with them early and offer support before things build up out of proportion.

The Place 2Be is basically an early intervention service and we know that we can prevent some children from entering the youth justice system at a later stage.

It is a voluntary organisation that has developed during the last 15 years a highly valued and respected school based counselling service in 17 regions across England, Scotland and Wales. We work in 155 schools, mostly primary. We support teachers and parents; we offer a self referral service for all children in the schools (approx 50000 children) and we provide individual and group counselling to those children who particularly need it.

Children, by and large as a result of our intervention, are in a better position to learn and access their education; parents feel more confident in handling their children; teachers feel better supported in understanding and responding to the children in their classrooms. We are encouraged by the many positive comments of head teachers who are quite clear that we make a big difference to the overall well being of the whole school and to the mental health of the children.

We very much want to be part of the coalition to call for the depoliticisation of young people and for more preventative and humane ways of addressing the problems in youth crime.

Peter Wilson
Clinical Adviser
The Place2Be

Friday 15 January 2010

Why did we commission “the Fear Factory”?

With funding from The Nationwide Foundation, three Third Sector agencies came together to commission this film, Safer Wales Ltd, Construction Youth Trust and Addaction. We all work intensively with young people who are either offenders or at risk of offending, to break the cycles of vulnerabilities, and prevent re-offending.

Frustration with External Factors
We have become, over the past 15 years or so, increasingly frustrated with the external factors which work against us and the young people themselves. In particular with how they are viewed, and treated, both within the criminal justice system, and also to some extent in schools, or in the care system, and in particular by the media, which we feel has a lot to answer for in perpetuating stereotypes and demonising young people, lessening their chances of exiting from the dire circumstances some of them find themselves in.

Wake Up Call – we need a Cross-Party Solution
We want the film, to be a wake-up call – to politicians, colleagues in the Third, Public and Private sectors who work in this field, and to the media. We want to ask you to join this coalition to develop and commit to a realistic and practical way forward on youth justice; and reject a system in which young people and crime are used as pawns to sell papers or to attract votes.

We want all of our politicians to work on a cross-party solution, and deal with the issue with proper long term planning, policy and delivery, and evaluation over a longer period.

Young people are entering the criminal justice system at younger and younger ages. We need to be asking the question why? Where are we failing them so badly that no one seems to be picking up the signs early enough to prevent this?

“Somewhere to go and something to do”
Consultation with young people who are “hanging around” on the streets, consistently shows the same result. They want somewhere to go, and something to do. It’s not rocket science. Too often, the same level of short-sightedness results in money being spent on practical measures that can end up alienating the young people even more – costly resources such as CCTV cameras and alley-gating schemes, please the electorate and meet short term community safety targets, whilst longer term or more creative solutions like more detached youth services and facilities, or, for example, the community (weekend, evening and school holiday) use of schools, are often talked about, but not delivered.

“All I wanted was an adult to talk to......................”
Many agencies in the Third Sector, including Safer Wales, find themselves delivering programmes to prevent “re-offending”, and we know that mentoring or other support schemes, and other interventions – if they are engaged with on a voluntary basis and occur at the right time – can make a huge difference to offending or reoffending behaviour. But the question we should be asking ourselves is why do these schemes need to exist? – Why are these young people getting into offending behaviour in the first place? – How is it that we have not effectively tackled and managed risk factors and vulnerabilities evidenced over 10 years ago - what have we really done to tackle poor literacy, poor parenting, low educational achievement, mental health issues, child abuse and plain old poverty?

Short-termist thinking doesn’t work...
The answer is that much has been done – but most of it in short term bursts, measured over 2 – 3 years. Partly this is because much new work is done with grant funding, which has a shelf life of 3 years at best. Partly, it is to do with performance reporting within agencies and with grant funders; targets (again annual or 2 – 3 year at most, coinciding with the electoral cycles), often related to what both local and national politicians want to demonstrate they have done on crime and disorder, to the electorate. It is also partly to do with the fact that some local CJS partners (the police and the CPS for example) may have centrally set annual targets which pro-actively ensure that more incidents are recorded and more young people are charged, and so, whilst they are all members of crime and disorder partnerships or other statutory partnerships, such as those which concern children and young people, they are constrained in their action, and there is no incentive to undertake things in a different fashion.

These things reflect the fact that no guidance over the past 30 years has taken into account the basic fact that if you want to prevent youth offending, you have to analyse plan and evaluate in a continuous process, long term, at least for a 5 – 10 year period. For example a literacy or vocational skill initiative which is undertaken in one year may support more 13 year olds to stay in school, which could impact on youth offending figures in 5 years time. Practically speaking this is about the years in which a young person may be most vulnerable to criminality – age 10 –20. The wider picture, tackling poverty and poor parenting, health issues etc – starts in early years and could go right through to age 25.

Join the coalition...
We want national and local politicians to work with us on these issues, and not put obstacles in the way; we want national and local media to stop stereotyping and demonising young people.

We need to act on this issue – TOGETHER and NOW – I appeal to my colleagues in the Third sector and elsewhere – sign up to the Coalition, and let’s start getting this right. We are delighted that so many organisations have already signed up to the coalition and hope many more will do the same.

Barbara Natasegara MBE
Chief Executive
Safer Wales Ltd

Wednesday 13 January 2010

The Fear Factory Blog

The Fear Factory Blog will feature contributions from coalition members, key stake holders, organsiations and individuals working in the field of youth justice.