This is what justice and policing is really about, not Gerry Kelly

Is there an epidemic of knife crime or not? The red-top headlines scream “Shock new figures reveal a knife crime takes place every 4 minutes”.

Dispassionate analysis offers precious little comfort ” Knives were involved in 6% of all violent incidents in 2007-08 – little change since the 7% of the year before.” 5% of young people are responsible for all youth crime”

For England and Wales, a different sort of action plan from the usual knee jerk clamp down is announced, promising “triple-track action, tougher punishment, earlier intervention and to parents ” non-negotiable support”. The centre left commentator Polly Toynbee describes in the Guardian how deeply government intends to reach into family life.

“The youth justice plan spells out a ladder of interventions, beginning with families at most risk being brought into Sure Start. Young people on first offence will have the chance to avoid court if they and their parents opt together for an eight-week course – pilot schemes show this leads to far less reoffending; and for the 20,000 families whose children have committed repeated crimes there will be intervention in the form of special units for intensive parenting support – an expensive scheme with excellent results”.

I find it very hard to imagine a Northern Ireland where parents of troubled kids are offered “non-negotiable support”, never mind accept it. NI has a long way to go before it reaches that norm.

In Northern Ireland, Paul Goggins, the UK minister in charge of policing and justice repeats the tough talk of doubling sentences. But where was the new follow-up, reaching far into people’s lives? Not a word as far as I can see.Youth crime initiatives with a flavour of restorative justice are not unknown in NI, like this scheme to encourage young people to understand better the consequences of their behaviour by meeting with victims of crime. But other moves like knife amnesties announced with a fanfare in the province two years ago are now held to have been failures.
Where is the big thinking? Doesn’t its apparent absence provide another example of a society still failing to come to grips with itself? Would people support ideas like those referred to by Polly Toynbee? Can you really imagine them taking on the parents? Or setting up a local citizen’s panel to decide what sort of community work a young offender should do? Or the public naming and shaming in court of 16 and 17 year olds and the lifting of reporting restrictions in the case, without the risk of “community punishment” i.e a terrible beating by self appointed guardians”? Or do we believe those days are really coming to an end? Convince me I’m out of date by all means

I can hear Shaun Woodward butting in with “That’s why we urgently need the devolution of justice and policing.” He may have a point, but when you get down to it, how would it make any real difference? Rather than all the politiking over Gerry Kelly or whoever else as minister, when are we going to hear about how to heal society?

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London

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