The Socialist 28 May 2008
Build a new workers' party
Home secretary: "Tough on crime"...but not the causes
Home secretary Jacqui Smith has urged police forces to harass 'badly behaved' young people. Police will be encouraged to openly film, repeatedly follow, 'stop and search' and visit them at home to "give them a taste of their own medicine and make their lives uncomfortable".
Matt Dobson, Socialist Students national organiser
Smith has lauded the example of Essex police who mounted a four day "frame and shame" operation using surveillance techniques and controversial 'stop and search' powers under section 60 of the Public Order Act, normally used to monitor football hooligans. There is debate over whether use of these and other powers require the police to have a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.
In its recent survey of youth crime, the charity Nacro finds that in order to hit targets for arrests and combating crime, police are focusing on prosecuting youth for minor offences such as shoplifting and school playground fights.
Police are also using stop and searches to photograph youth for purposes of intelligence gathering even when there is no evidence of any offence.
Following its local election battering and loss of votes to the Tories, New Labour has come forward with a whole raft of repressive measures that they claim will combat youth crime.
These include encouraging head teachers to screen their pupil's computer accounts for signs of gang involvement. There are also plans to open 100 Saturday schools such as London's Eastside Young Leaders Academy where students are forced to drill, march and 'learn manners'. The government's ASBOs have come in for criticism for not being effective enough. Smith has responded by calling for an increase in parental orders and 'acceptable behaviour' contracts drawn up by police and local housing authorities that persistent young offenders will have to sign.
The Tories and Liberals have been falling over themselves to praise these plans. But these repressive measures will not stop young people being drawn into crime and are an attack on young people's basic rights and well being.
For example, 'Mosquito noise machines' that emit high pitched noise only heard by teenagers, have been encouraged to stop youth congregating. However they have been condemned by the National Autistic Society for having an adverse effect on autistic young people.
New Labour is cynically trying to win back votes by being seen to be "tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime" and confronting yob culture. They, and the Tories and Liberals are trying to distract attention away from their neo-liberal policies that wreck communities and people's lives, to blame and demonise alienated young people.
In the Crewe and Nantwich byelection Labour put out a leaflet entitled: "Tories soft on yobs" that claimed that the Labour candidate "wants the police to harass yobs, and get in their faces". The leaflet had a link to a website titled: "Get the yobs".
Understandably working class communities feel huge anger, fear and frustration at rising levels of crime and towards young people who commit offences. The super-rich can insulate themselves in gated communities with expensive security protection. It is the working class, both young and old, that bears the brunt of crime. Many ordinary people, frustrated at rising crime, the erosion of basic public services and a lack of an effective response from local authorities, may support repressive measures in the hope that things will change.
Socialists too, are opposed to criminal and anti-social behaviour. But we also condemn the criminalisation and repression of young people. Crime, gang culture and alienation of a layer of young people are a social product of this brutal capitalist system which encourages an 'everyone out for themselves' philosophy.
The lack of affordable, decent, spacious housing, and years of cuts and closures of youth facilities, playing fields, support networks, social services and other public services mean many working-class youth are left isolated out on the streets.
Some turn to gangs, drugs and crime because of the lack of decent employment, training and education opportunities. A social time-bomb has been created within a generation of youth who view their future as bleak and insecure.
In rundown inner city areas, using police repression and harassment to put young people under siege, rather than solving crime, can undercut cooperation and cause violent reactions. Workers and youth need to organise to fight for decent jobs, housing and to defend public services and democratic rights.
How dare those hypocritical politicians make announcements about "defending communities" from criminals when it is they who have long 'criminal records' of cuts, privatisations and closures of post offices, youth centres, hospitals, schools and other public services. We need a new party that stands up for workers and young people!
In this issue
Socialist Party campaigns
Socialist Party women
Youth and crime
Socialist Party feature
International socialist analysis
Socialist Party review
Socialist Party workplace news