Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Six-year-old offenders will be sent to boot camps

Or so an Independent headline read this morning. I checked the date - it wasn't 1 April - so I tried the first paragraph:
Shoplifters, joy-riders and tearaways as young as six are to be sent to military training camps under a government attempt to instil discipline in disruptive children, with those succeeding winning a place with a military cadet force.
The full story is here, though after a week it will disappear into the darkness of the paper's Portfolio scheme, which means you will have to pay to read it.

The BBC's account is free, and more measured:

Organisers say the format is expected to be similar to Outward Bound courses rather than harsh American boot camps.
Such courses might well do some young offenders good, but why does it have anything to do with the Army? Perhaps part of the answer is that not enough people volunteer to work with children any more, and another part is that the existing agencies are not terribly good at their jobs.

Or you may see something sinister when the Independent reports that:

Those who successfully complete the military programmes will not only win a certificate but automatic referral to a cadet force. The Army has a recruitment drive aimed at young people from all backgrounds.

An interventionist foreign policy is going to need more recruits, and it may be a help to the Army to have them pointed its way by the courts. How much say the young offenders will have in the matter is not discussed in either report.

The BBC says that the Youth Justice Board's outreach workers will identify young offenders aged between 10 and 17 who would benefit from the courses. But what is most objectionable about this scheme emerges when it goes on to say:
The same staff, during multi-agency discussions, will also identify children aged eight to 13 who have not committed a crime but are at risk of offending.
Any one like to guess what "children at risk of offending" will look like? Certainly poor, probably male and possibly black. When you are born into such circumstances, it seems that the authorities do not care if you break the law or not. The best thing is for you to treated like a young offender.

The reforms of the 1960s were supposed to make society see criminal children as merely troubled. Their long-term effects has been to make us regard all troubled children as criminal.

The last people to be this keen on camps and discipline were the Scouting movement. But at least they had a strong ethos of encouraging children to mix across the classes and races.

New Labour, by contrast, wants to separate those children it sees as dangerous from the rest of society.

No comments: