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Saturday, August 13, 2011

Riots force rethink on Britain's juvenile justice!


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Associated Press / ibnlive.in.com / Posted on Aug 13, 2011 at 02:07am IST.



London: It wasn't long ago that David Cameron launched what became known as his "Hug a Hoodie" campaign - an initiative born of a public outcry over Britain's ill-behaved youths, and one that ended in ridicule when hooded youths mocked the then opposition leader during a photo opportunity.

Now as prime minister, Cameron is opting for tough love in the wake of Britain's riots.

He has declared anyone convicted in the unrest will be jailed, and he's even warned rioters that they may be kicked out of state-subsidized housing. "We will track you down, we will find you, we will charge you, we will punish you," he said.

Some critics say the hardline stance falls short.

Among them are law-enforcement officials and youth workers who claim Britain has taken too soft an approach to juvenile offenders. Too many receive cautions, which they ignore. Others have been given Anti-Social Behavior Orders, an invention of the previous Labour government which have been derided as largely ineffective, even being used as a badge of honor by delinquent youths. The ones who have ended up in juvenile detention centers often have access to luxuries like PlayStations or computer games.

"There is frustration because a lot of these people are people front-line officers have dealt with before," said Andy Trotter, chief constable of British Transport Police who is helping police with the riots.

"The approach to juvenile justice has often been to use cautions and then further cautions. There's nothing wrong with trying to rehabilitate them, but there has also been this lack of sanction."
Sanction is very much on the minds of police, politicians and judges since four nights of riots wreaked havoc in London and other English cities. More than 1,700 people have been arrested and almost 700 charged in London alone, as officials try to show the rioters - and the British public - that they are in control.

Since Wednesday, several courts around the country sat overnight to dispense swift justice to the accused, most of whom are in their teens or early 20s. Police said about half those charged in London were 18 or under.

Some have pleaded guilty and in most cases received jail sentences - or were sent to a higher court which has the power to impose longer terms of imprisonment. A majority have not been granted bail as they await their next hearing.

To liberal-minded observers, some of the punishments appear harsh. Londoner Nicholas Robinson received six months in jail for stealing a case of water valued at 3.50 pounds ($5) from a looted supermarket. The 23-year-old student had no previous convictions and his lawyer said he took the water on impulse because he was thirsty.


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