This must form the framework within which any recommendations emerging from the Report are implemented.
Although we haven’t yet had the opportunity to study the Report in great depth; we do have some initial thoughts on what we see as key challenges in delivering a children’s rights compliant policing service.
One of the issues raised in our written submission to the inquiry is the use of Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs) against children and young people and the clear breaches of children’s rights; breaches which have been highlighted by many rights experts across the world. We have seen little evidence that ASBOs are effective in deterring young people from anti-social behaviour– this lack of evidence is now recognised by governments in England and Wales.
We are disappointed that the Report, while addressing some of the procedural concerns regarding the operation of ASBOs against children and young people, has stopped short of making a clear recommendation that their use should be ended. Given the ineffectiveness and violation of children’s rights, Include Youth wants the Department of Justice to abolish the use of ASBOs for all children in Northern Ireland. We believe there are more effective ways of stopping young people committing crime and anti-social behavior; some of which this Report explores. We are a strong advocate of the need to fully understand and respond appropriately to the reasons why young people come into conflict with the law. There is significant international evidence that interventions, which divert a young person away from the formal criminal justice system, are likely to see better outcomes. Family support and restorative approaches are two such interventions.
We welcome the Report’s recommendation that the PSNI should set out structures and formal processes for working with community-based restorative justice schemes. We believe restorative approaches have a positive role to play in stopping young people from getting involved in further crime. Young people and their families live in communities and so it makes sense that this is the first place to resolve these issues. How young people are perceived is a recurring thread running through and underlying many of the issues affecting children and young people. Challenging fear of crime and negative representations of young people is vital if we are to influence both public opinion and political responses.
Media portrayal of young people is often negative, focusing on anti- social behaviour and the actions of a small number of children. This adds to the fear that crime by young people is increasing, which can result in calls for ‘tough’ responses when tackling youth offending. Yet there is no evidence to support how tougher sentences can lead to a change in offending behaviour among young people.
The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child recommended in 2008 that the government take “urgent measures to address the intolerance and inappropriate characterization of children, especially adolescents, within the society, including in the media.” We were heartened to see recognition of this in the Report and the inclusion of a pledge that children and young people be protected and respected and no longer subjected to unfair and inaccurate stereotyping.
Some of the young people we work with have told me:“Young people are not valued in our society. We are all labelled as bad news, as trouble, nagged at.”
“No adults treat young people with respect – I wear a hood, I am a hood.” The initial over-zealous rolling out of Operation Exposure by the PSNI, prior to the Policing Board’s intervention in the matter, where the PSNI leafleted thousands of houses in Derry city with images of children and young people under 18 they wanted to speak with, is a recent and worrying example of an approach by those in authority. Specifically, Operation Exposure saw the PSNI labelling and breaching the rights of children and young people at risk.
We welcome the inclusion of a detailed recommendation on this issue in the Report, echoing the earlier advice provided to the Policing Board by its Human Rights Advisor on the matter.
One major gap in the Report is in relation to the minimum age of criminal responsibility. While we recognise that the power to amend the age of criminal responsibility rests with neither the Policing Board nor the PSNI, nonetheless a clear recommendation on the need for it to be raised considerably, in-line with international children’s rights standards would have been most helpful, particularly in light of the ongoing Youth Justice Review.
Other issues of concern to Include Youth, and the young people we work with, addressed in this Report include: the use of technologies such as tasers and plastic bullets; and complaints against the police, which we will be studying closely. We congratulate the Policing Board and its Human Rights Advisor in the inclusive way they have undertaken this important piece of work. We look forward to studying the Report’s recommendations in full and engaging with the Policing Board as it seeks to implement its findings.