Tuesday, May 19, 2009

e-petitions: Engagement or propaganda?


Punkscience signs quite a few e-petitions on the Downing Street website. He has rarely received satisfactory responses to the petitions. The latest is this one, reading:

“We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to end custodial sentences for youth graffiti offences.”

Details of Petition:

“Whilst we do not condone the defacing of private property, we feel that sending a teenager into prison, bearing in mind the damaging long-term effect of such a sentence, is outrageously excessive. Besides being a scandalous waste of taxpayer’s money and taking up valuable prison space, it is morally irresponsible and socially destructive to alienate any young person from society in such a way for a non-violent crime. In addition, the message sent out to other teenagers by imposing a high sentence not only alienates youth from society, it actually encourages what it seeks to prevent by promoting a lack of faith in the justice system and a lack of respect for authority. The government must accept that the current approach of custodial sentencing for graffiti artists, where no violence is indicated, is not legally equitable, is counter-productive and harmful to society as a whole. The issue must be approached in a more constructive manner and punishments restricted to non-custodial sentences, in service to the community rather than a burden upon it.”

And the government's response:

Custody for under-18s is a last resort: the Youth Justice Board’s annual statistics for 2006 - 07 show that only 3 per cent of those who admitted or were found guilty of an offence received a custodial sentence. Custody is used only for the most persistent and serious offenders. However the courts must have the sentencing options that they need to tackle youth crime. Some young people offend so seriously or persistently that custody is the only way to prevent offending in the community and to protect the public.

The Government has greatly strengthened and expanded the range of non-custodial sentencing options available to the courts for under-18s. We recognise the value of restorative justice approaches, including practical reparation, in tackling youth offending. We also recognise the positive outcomes that can result from making young offenders face up to the consequences of their criminal behaviour.

The Intensive Supervision and Surveillance Programme (ISSP) caters for serious and persistent offenders who might otherwise be sent to custody. The programme combines a high level of community-based surveillance with intensive supervision aimed at tackling the factors that lead to offending. For those whose offending is not considered so serious as to require custody, Referral Orders are now the main intervention for young offenders who plead guilty on their first court appearance. The offender is referred to a community-led panel attended by parents, victims if they wish, and others. The panel draws up a contract covering reparation and steps to tackle the offending behaviour.

The action plan order is a focused three-month community sentence, which involves the young offender in an intensively supervised programme of education and other activities and ensures that the parents are fully involved. Courts can also make a reparation order, which requires the young person to make specific reparation either to the individual victim of the crime (where the victim desires this) or to the community. The reparation order aims to confront young offenders with the consequences of their behaviour and its impact upon victims and the community.

Reparation activities currently being undertaken by young offenders on community sentences include graffiti scrubbing, clearing of parkland and repairing bicycles which are then donated to the local community. Under the Youth Crime Action Plan, published in July 2008, the Government has committed to almost £100 million of new activities to combat youth crime, and one of the eight key strands of work is to increase the amount of reparation activity done by young offenders.

The Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 will establish a sentencing structure firmly based on reparation. This will provide a clear steer to the courts and Youth Offending Teams that reparation should be a fundamental part of any community sentence for a young offender. The Act established the Youth Rehabilitation Order (YRO), which will be the new generic community sentence for young offenders from the end of 2009. The YRO will enable greater choice for sentencing from a ‘menu’ of requirements, allowing the courts to tailor sentences to meet the needs of the individual and the seriousness of the offence.

So, that's cleared that up, then. Yeah. A bucket load of rants about how great the government is and how much money its putting into combatting youth crime. No attempt to engage with the point of the petition, i.e. that graffiti artists are non-violent and undeserving of any sort of custodial sentence. No attempt to justify the custodial sentences handed out to such offenders. No attempt to challenge the main accusation of the petition: That custodial sentences are sociopathic and ruin the lives of young people, perpetuating the cycle of criminality.

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