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Archive for the ‘Education and young people’ Category

Monday
May 14,2012

I know that some of my readers may find this difficult to believe, but I think I should make it clear that I am not – nor have I ever been – a very athletic person.

Moreover, for the avoidance of doubt I want to make it clear that the Toby Harris who is bearing the Olympic Torch through Walkerburn on the 14th June is not me.

He is clearly a very worthy torch-bearer.  However, if any one wants to catch sight of me in a tracksuit running or jogging or even walking slowly, they will be disappointed….

However, I wish my namesake (and indeed all the other Torch-bearers) my best wishes.

Wednesday
May 2,2012

As the Government potentially dilutes police accountability with the abolition of police authorities, new technology will increasingly create a new way of ensuring that the police act responsibly.

I have commented before on the impact of citizens with video-enabled mobile phones being able to post on the internet videos of interactions between the police and the public within seconds of the interaction happening.  This means that some incidents that might not previously have received wide coverage now do so.  This places a great pressure on the police to act responsibly at all times, even though what may be an entirely reasonable response to, for example, violent behaviour may not look so reasonable when a 10-second clip is viewed without the context of the preceding incident.

Today, however, I heard of another development that will also potentially have far-reaching consequences. Wired reports that three developers from Tulse Hill in south London have build an app that aims to give the public a way to hold the police more accountable:

“Users can upload information when they’re stopped by the police to the Stop and Search UK site, including the location of the stop, the badge numbers of the officers involved, and any feedback they’d like included. There’s also a guide to the law regarding being stopped and searched, to help educate people about their rights.

The hope is that, over time, a wider picture of stop and search powers will emerge across the country, which will in turn increase accountability over a police power which has drawn controversy in the past.”

This effectively creates a crowd-sourced monitoring system and, whilst the data will not be entirely systematic or representative, the information it produces will be a powerful tool for those who want to argue whether or not the stop-and-search tactic is being used fairly, appropriiately and proportionately.

No doubt this app will prove controversial with police officers who will feel that this is yet another impediment to them being able to do their job effectively.  However, conscientious officers will have little to fear and a greater confidence in the police that may stem from better accountability can only be a good thing.

If nothing else, it should act as a spur to  the Home Office and local police services to ensure that their adoption of mobile technology to properly record and document interactions with the police is speeded up.

As I have previously commented, recording such encounters is an important safeguard against the over-use or inappropriate use of the power against particular individuals or groups.  It is also incidentally a safeguard for officers who might otherwise be accused of abusing the power who will now be able to point to statistical evidence of how they have used the power properly and proportionately.

Thursday
Apr 26,2012

I have written a short piece for the Labour Lords website.

You can read it here, but the text is as follows:

London elects its Mayor in one week’s time.  The choice is a simple one.  Do Londoners want someone who cares about (and will do something about) the issues that affect them, such as rocketing transport fares, falling police numbers and poor prospects for young people? Or do they want a Mayor who is more pre-occupied with costly vanity projects and using the Mayoralty as a platform to gain the Leadership of the Conservative Party?

The brilliant Labour election broadcast was attacked by the Tories for being “scripted” (since when was an election broadcast not scripted?) and (wrongly) of having used actors.  The attacks were typical of a Conservative campaign that has sought to keep away from any proper policy debate or focus on what directly affects Londoners.

Indeed, what is interesting about the Tory campaign is what they do NOT talk about.  Their candidate’s manifesto barely mentions the word “Conservative” – relegating it to the published and promoted by small print at the end of the page.  But more significant is the failure to mention childcare or child poverty, the different faith communities that make up London, or LGBT Londoners.  And black Londoners are only mentioned in the context of crime.  The manifesto itself is light on policy and says little about what Boris Johnson would do in a second term in office.

By contrast, Ken Livingstone’s manifesto makes a series of striking pledges that match the concerns of Londoners.  Ken has committed to cut fares – saving the average fare-payer £1,000 over four years; crack down on crime by reversing the Tory Mayor’s police cuts; and help reduce rents with non-profit lettings agency for London. The Labour Mayoral campaign promises to provide free home insulation for those in fuel poverty and campaign to force the utility companies to cut heating bills; establish a London-wide Educational Maintenance Allowance of up to £30 per week to help young people stay in education; and support childcare with grants and interest-free loans.

Ken Livingstone has also promised to freeze both the Mayor’s share of Council Tax and the congestion charge for four years and to invest in improving transport services, build new homes and cut pollution.

On 3rd May, Londoners will also be electing twenty-five members of the London Assembly whose role is to hold the Mayor to account and to speak up for the interests of Londoners.   At present only eight of the seats on the Assembly are held by Labour (the Tories hold eleven with three LibDems, two Greens and one ex-BNP “other”).  With the Assembly being a mix of fourteen constituency seats and eleven more “additional members” elected to achieve proportionality, there is a real prospect of the balance shifting significantly.  Labour is hoping to gain Barnet and Camden where the incumbent Tory has made his name by making controversial statements and there are several other constituency seats being targeted.

With just one week to go and the public increasingly focusing on what sort of policies they want from London’s government, there is all to play for.

Saturday
Apr 21,2012

A powerful 90-minute drama unfolded before a packed cross-section of teenage Londoners at the Unicorn Theatre in Tooley Street (just by City Hall) this afternoon.

The drama was provided by the able cast of Hull Truck’s production (directed by Anthony Banks) of Dennis Kelly’s “DNA” with tension mounting as a group of young people try to cover up the death of one of their friends whom they have been bullying (“it was a joke – he was laughing – and crying”).

The interplay between Phil (James Alexandrou) and Leah (Leah Brotherhead) is particularly entertaining but it is the group dynamic that is absorbing.

The play was originally commissioned for the National Theatre in 2007 as part of the Connections youth theatre programme and is a reminder why financial support for the arts matters.

“DNA” is at the Unicorn until 28th April when it resumes its country-wide tour.

Saturday
Apr 21,2012

I have been delighted to contribute a foreword to a guide produced by my good friends at The Risk Management Group for parents to help them keep their children safe online.

The guide “The A to Z of Safe Children Online” is available here.

Monday
Apr 2,2012

Youth knife crime has gone up in London by 23% in the last four years – with more than five and a half  thousand young victims in the last year and at the same time police numbers are being cut. Of course, four years ago a promise to get to grips with knife and serious youth crime was central to the election manifesto of Mayoral candidate, Boris Johnson.  The record of his four years as Mayor, however, demonstrate the shallowness of that promise and his strategy over that period has been described as “directionless” and “a shambles” by one of the experts brought in to advise on it.

It is not surprising therefore that Richard Taylor, the father of Damilola stabbed to death in Peckham twelve years ago should be so disappointed, saying earlier today:

“Knife crime is still a huge issue for London. The problem is not going. It is still there. Something must be done. … As someone who has been through it this makes me so disappointed. More and more families are suffering as a result of the negligence of the authorities. There has been a failure to address the problem properly.”

He was hopeful that the plans announced by Ken Livingstone would help with the problem, saying:

“Ken has been able to see the weaknesses of the present Mayor so he should be able to capitalise and do something about this. …  It has to be dealt with once and for all. It has to be handled with an iron fist.”

Ken Livingstone’s proposals include a plan for every one of London’s 432 state funded secondary schools to be assigned a dedicated police officer committed to tackling knife crime by providing better intelligence, increasing detection levels and building better relationships between young people and the police.

Ken Livingstone has also announced plans to back London Citizens’ ‘City Safe Havens’ scheme, which builds the power of local communities to tackle crime and the fear of crime.  The scheme works with willing local businesses and other organisations that are open to the public to make them ‘safe havens’ offering their premises as a place of safety for people who are in immediate danger.

Labour’s candidate for Mayor has promised to work to ensure that all organisations that support City Safe Havens scheme will be given a service agreement from the Metropolitan Police that would include:

•    A named officer assigned to the premises
•    Regular visits from their Safer Neighbourhood Teams
•    A panic button alarm service for emergencies

And his campaign have issued a fact sheet about Tory Mayor’s lies on knife crime.

 

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Tuesday
Mar 13,2012

Along with peers from all parts of the House of Lords, I have been pursuing concerns about the loophole that the Government was creating in the Protection of Freedoms Bill that would have meant that those volunteering to work with children did not have to be subject to Criminal Records Bureau checks or checked against the lists of those barred from working with children provided their activities were subject to “day to day supervision”.

These issues were debated again in the House of Lords late yesterday afternoon.  In the end, the issues boiled down to whether an organisation with volunteers working with children could have an “enhanced” Criminal Records Bureau check on such volunteers and whether that check would include information as to whether that individual had been barred from working with children.

The legislation as originally envisaged would not automatically have given organisations the right to have enhanced CRB checks on volunteers.  In essence, the Government have now conceded that right.

They resisted, however, the suggestion that the check should reveal whether or not an individual had previously been barred from working with children – even those 20% of those barred do not have a criminal conviction that would show up on a CRB check.

In the end, the Minister offered a compromise: the “enhanced” check would not disclose whether an individual had been barred but the information that had led to a decision to bar an individual would be made available to the police and they would have discretion as to whether to pass it on as part of the enhanced checking process.

Essentially this ought then to mean that any relevant information could be obtained by an organisation about a volunteer, but it seems a very convoluted way round of doing it.  It would surely be much simpler to say whether that individual had or had not been barred.  It also places the onus and the discretion on the police to pass on the information – so any failure to do so will no doubt lead to criticism of the police service concerned.

For those who really want the details the debate is here and here.

Tuesday
Mar 6,2012

Dave Hill’s London Blog in The Guardian can usually be relied on for serious comment and analysis of London issues. And last week he posted two important posts on the issue of serious gang-related violence in London.

The first highlighted the post-code rivalries between gangs in North-West London:

“Page 81 of my London A-Z shows the streets, parks and stations at the intersections of north Westminster, north Kensington and Brent. But it offers no clues to the alternative cartography that shapes the lives of many people living there – an unofficial map of an urban landscape scarred by violence and divided by fear. …

Territories have been defined and the borders between them guarded and sometimes breached. Incursions resulting in chasings, beatings and robberies are frequent. …

Some who live in the area concerned, including some who are young, are barely touched by this wired, short-fused youthful world. They and it are largely invisible to each other: people move freely and routinely to and from work, local schools, community facilities and places of worship just like anywhere else. Yet an awareness of that other side of neighbourhood life has filtered down even to primary school children. And on the streets young people in particular, even if they have little or no direct connection with it, are acutely conscious of it: at worst, cowed, menaced and controlled. …

 In this increasingly less subterranean world the streets are an excitingly dangerous playground – a place that’s more available, more plausible and more rewarding than the alternatives of education, conformity and long-term, steadier rewards. Yet though that playground may be larger than those at primary school, it is both limited and limiting too. The horizons of those playing crazy, deadly games there don’t extend geographically, intellectually or emotionally even as far as A-Z pages 80 or 82.”
The second cited a report from the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies at Kings College, “Young People, Knives and Guns”, which concluded that:
“focusing on weapons themselves can be a distraction from addressing the underlying causes of violence and that the most effective interventions engaged instead with “the big questions of disadvantage and social exclusion” along with addressing individual, family and neighbourhood problems. It also found that in the United States locally-based strategies where a variety of agencies work closely together to combine different prevention and suppression approaches have been more effective than “enforcement-led interventions by agencies operating in isolation.””
Later in the same post, Hill describes the experience of youth and community workers he had met:
“There was a strong consensus that every neighbourhood affected and individual involved is different, and that responses should be tailored accordingly. A unified view was also expressed that police officers with listening ears who know a neighbourhood well are an asset, but that vanloads of territorial support group members sent in from elsewhere to conduct stop-and-search blitzes can cause more problems than they solve. Far better that police energy was put into co-ordinating activities across borough lines and building trust with the communities they serve.

There was a general frustration that funding for anti-youth crime and violence projects is too often short-term and under threat, making the sustained action required far more difficult to implement. Outreach work, personal development and gang mediation schemes were all thought to have beneficial effects, so why couldn’t they be backed with more consistency and on a larger scale?”

Certainly my perception for what it is worth is that gang-related violence seems to have got significantly worse in London in the last couple of years or so.  This is not intended to be a political point because I am not sure that there is a simplistic cause and effect between political decisions or for that matter policing decisions and changes in the levels of violence or gang-related activity.
I am also told that at least one magistrates court in London checks through the lists of cases coming up so as to ensure that cases involving rival gangs are scheduled on different days to stop fights breaking out on court premises.
However, what is clear is that a number of things that are happening will clearly be making the situation worse – what the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies call “the big questions of disadvantage and social exclusion”.
Thus, a worsening economic situation with fewer opportunities for young people will create an increasing sense of hopelessness and futility fostering a breeding ground for both extremism and for gangs.  In this context, scrapping the Educational Maintenance Allowance seems a particular folly and which is why Ken Livingstone’s pledge to restore it in London makes sense.
Similarly, cutting local authority budgets will both increase local joblessness but is also likely to mean that specialist youth and community provision will be lost – again hardly helpful in this context.
Tackling the environment in which gangs flourish is the key.  Too often in too many parts of London for too many young people being part of a gang is the only way of having any security – both physical and emotional.  These are not easy issues to tackle, but it is obvious that some policies will make things worse.
Friday
Feb 17,2012

There is an excellent article in the New York Times that explains the behavioural psychology that is now linked to supermarket loyalty cards and on-line shopping patterns to target and personalise adverts and offers.

It describes an incident in a Target store (a major US chain) as follows:

“a man walked into a Target outside Minneapolis and demanded to see the manager. He was clutching coupons that had been sent to his daughter, and he was angry, according to an employee who participated in the conversation.

“My daughter got this in the mail!” he said. “She’s still in high school, and you’re sending her coupons for baby clothes and cribs? Are you trying to encourage her to get pregnant?”

The manager didn’t have any idea what the man was talking about. He looked at the mailer. Sure enough, it was addressed to the man’s daughter and contained advertisements for maternity clothing, nursery furniture and pictures of smiling infants. The manager apologized and then called a few days later to apologize again.

On the phone, though, the father was somewhat abashed. “I had a talk with my daughter,” he said. “It turns out there’s been some activities in my house I haven’t been completely aware of. She’s due in August. I owe you an apology.”

I suspect these systems are now so sophisticated and analyse so much data about individual’s behaviour that they far surpass even the databases held by the most anti-civil libertarian governments.
But for some reason you don’t hear so many complaints ….
Wednesday
Feb 8,2012

The Mayor of London and his policing surrogate, Deputy Mayor Kit Malthouse AM, are keen to introduce a pilot scheme in London whereby the courts could impose on offenders, whose offences were alcohol-related, a requirement that they be compulsorily tested for alcohol daily for a three months period with a positive test meaning arrest and appearance again in court.

Data in the US, where such schemes have been in place for eight years, show that reoffending rates after alcohol monitoring more than halved when compared with traditional sentences of fines or custody – with 99 per cent of tests being negative, and two-thirds of those on an alcohol monitoring scheme having perfect compliance throughout the whole period of the scheme.

This evening in the Lords, the distinguished cross-bench peer, Baroness Finlay of Llandaff, proposed a series of amendments that would permit such a pilot, saying:

“My Lords, this set of amendments concerns an alcohol monitoring requirement and is modified from those tabled in Committee on the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill. The alcohol monitoring requirement requires an offender to abstain from alcohol and be regularly tested to ensure compliance as part of any community or custodial sentence. It would provide an additional option—a new tool—for the courts.

These amendments would not stop responsible social drinking. They aim to deal with irresponsible, anti-social alcohol abuse and its devastating consequences. When I tabled these amendments previously, the Government’s response was that they would pilot the idea in October, using existing legislation for low-level crimes. October has come and gone. Where is the pilot? Anyway, this is needed for middle and high-level crimes, not just low-level crimes.

I should explain why we need primary legislation to undertake a proper pilot. London wants to do a pilot and will fund that pilot. The proposal has wide support. London Councils, which represents all 32 London boroughs, has written to Ken Clarke supporting the scheme. The chair of London Councils is Mayor Jules Pipe, the Labour elected mayor of Hackney. The scheme’s project board has representatives from Her Majesty’s Courts Service, London Probation, Public Health and the Crown Prosecution Service involved in developing the pilot. Consultation has involved domestic violence victims, Refuge, Women’s Aid, domestic violence offenders, health leads and those with an interest in the night-time economy from transport to addiction support services.

Today, I spoke to Bernard Hogan-Howe, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, who is “fully supportive” of the proposal. He commented that alcohol is a precursor to crime in about 80 per cent of crimes in London and that after six o’clock at night you can smell the problem in the police cells. Violence against the person offences account for 64 per cent of Metropolitan Police alcohol flagged offences and criminal damage accounts for some 11 per cent of alcohol flagged crime. We should remember that only about 10 per cent of offences get flagged as alcohol-related even though, in recent British Crime Surveys, victims believe offenders to be under the influence of alcohol in about half of all violent incidents. The commissioner wants this to be a mandatory scheme. Voluntary schemes do not work because you need to support those who most need it and who are unlikely to recognise that need without compulsion. He wants this measure to act as a driver for better health as youth binge drinking is now a common cause of end-stage alcohol-induced liver failure in those aged under 25. We have a major social and health problem.

The Metropolitan Police view this measure as an additional tool against drink-driving and domestic violence. The proposed alcohol monitoring requirement has the potential to reduce reoffending for alcohol-related crime, particularly drink-driving and domestic violence, and contribute to long-term behavioural change of offenders. …

Courts need a different sentence to tackle alcohol-related crime because what we have is just not working. Custody tears families apart and single large fines damage the children in the home more than the offender. Neither custody nor fines address behavioural change. London wants to pilot this scheme in relation to offences of violence against the person, drink-driving and domestic violence. It is recognised that developing a scheme in relation to domestic violence would require particular care to ensure that the safety of the victim, including any dependants, is an integral part of the scheme.

These amendments will enable the court to take enforcement action on alcohol-related violence and to monitor compliance, particularly regarding middle-level offences such as common assault, offences against the person, threatening behaviour and domestic violence. How would it work? Pre-court screening aims to identify alcoholics whose needs are so great that the scheme would not be suitable for them. Alcohol monitoring as part of a suspended sentence, a community sentence or post-release licence would be an alternative to custody when the magistrate is satisfied that the offender understands the demands, which are no alcohol and daily testing.

Evidence suggests that the period needs to be 12 weeks to achieve real behavioural change. The court would order the offender to pay for each test—usually £1, which is less than such offenders are paying for their drinks. Let us get this in proportion: £2 a day is less than the cost of one pint of beer in a pub or two pints from many supermarkets. The cost of the monitoring to the offender is very low compared with the amount that they are normally spending on their huge alcohol intake—even when that is irregular. Testing would be done by either a private company or voluntary third-sector agency using paid staff, not volunteers. It will not tie up police constable time.

For the pilot, test centres would use existing court and probation premises near transport hubs. The initial alcohol test would be taken with a standard breathalyser. If it is positive, a second test would be taken with evidential standard equipment and mouthpiece. Breaches, which might be through a positive breath test, non-attendance or non-payment, would be dealt with using standard processes, with a swift and modest sanction such as an extension of the monitoring period in the first instance. Non-payment will need a flexible approach, particularly for those on benefits, and will be specified in the protocol. I have gone through the draft protocol but I shall not delay the debate by going through its minutiae.

The amendments are compatible with our human rights law—in particular, Articles 5 and 8, and habeas corpus. Let me be explicit: there is no compulsion on an officer to arrest a person for non-compliance and no compulsion to detain on arrest. An officer may arrest a person only when it satisfies the test of reasonableness and proportionality in Article 5.1(b).

In London alone, almost 9,000 cases would be suitable for the scheme. Between half and a quarter of these are people who are employed. The scheme would allow them to present for testing on the way to and from work, without any risk to their job. For offenders with anger and aggression issues, counselling and family support have the greatest chance of success when the participants are sober.

Existing orders that relate to offences for low-level crimes and have been used in cases of alcohol abuse do not have a success story attached to them. The alcohol-monitoring requirement would be appropriate for medium to high-level offences that require appearance at a court for sentencing. Existing orders were discussed with the Home Office and Ministry of Justice officials, but were considered inappropriate by those who want to pilot this scheme in London because, for example, drink banning orders keep people out of an area but do not halt the abuse, and are non-enforceable. Conditional cautions need to be voluntary, involve an admission of guilt and are managed by the police. The police do not want to use conditional cautions because they do not have the manpower and do not feel that such cautions are appropriate. Anti-social behaviour orders are civil orders to tackle harassment, alarm or distress to one or more persons not in the same household, and therefore do nothing to tackle domestic violence. Community sentencing could require attendance but not testing by breathalyser. Penalty notices for disorder do not require an admission of guilt, and do not count as convictions. The current fine of £80 is suitable only for minor offences.

I am sure that the Minister will say in response that the Government plan a pilot under community sentencing, just as they did previously for low-level offences, by using tagging for secure continuous remote alcohol monitoring—SCRAM devices that detect alcohol in sweat. These devices are not yet type-approved by the Home Office. They are bulky, are fixed around the ankle, and make a buzzing sound every 30 minutes as they sample the sweat. The offender cannot travel without prior permission because they have to be near the base station to download data daily. The wearer has to connect the device to the mains to recharge and cannot bath, use household cleaning or personal hygiene products that contain any alcohol at all, because that would give a false positive reading—and the device is in place for three months. As for the collection of the £1 test cost, the principle of hypothecation locally is already in place for asset seizures. The police can already hypothecate when the money is there.

We have an epidemic of alcohol abuse in this country. We cannot carry on doing what we are doing. It just is not working. These amendments would allow a full pilot to take place in a small area. London wants to do that to discover how well it works or not, and to iron out any problems. These amendments are essential to allow that pilot to happen. I beg to move.”

The amendments were supported by speeches from all parts of the House: Liberal Democrats, Lord Avebury and Lord Carlile of Berriew; Conservatives, Baroness Jenkin of Kennington and Baroness Newlove (whose husband was kicked to death in an alcohol-fuelled murder); Labour, Baroness Dianne Hayter, Lord Willie Bach (from the front-bench) and myself; and Cross-bencher, Baroness Howe of Idlicote.

Unanimity had broken out, until the Government spokesperson, Baroness Northover (a Liberal Democrat, but no doubt a Conservative Minister would have said the same as they did when the same proposal was raised a few months ago) rose to respond.

She offered supportive phrases:

“we very much support the principle of the intention of the noble Baroness and other noble Lords who have contributed to this debate.”

Supporting “the principle of the intention” is a bit like those non-apology letters you get saying “we are sorry you found it necessary to complain”.

And promised two non-statutory pilots (which would be unlikely to reach the most serious offenders) – in due course = when the Government has published its alcohol strategy and gone throughout the approval process for the technology it wants to use.

And, of course, the Government wants

“to hear the views of the judiciary, professionals within the criminal justice system and the public on the proposals. We will therefore be consulting in parallel with the pilot schemes to ensure that we give full consideration to the purpose, effect and benefit of sobriety schemes as we develop work further.”

A long grass job.
She was not keen to apply the pilots in domestic violence cases either because as she rather strangely put it:
“We have reservations about sobriety schemes being applied to domestic violence offenders because, if you like, alcohol does not cause domestic violence although, of course, it may very well increase its severity and/or frequency.”
Apparently, it is not a priority to reduce the severity or frequency of domestic violence.
In any event, she made it clear she expected the amendments to be withdrawn and this is eventually what happened, although Baroness Finlay did warn:

“I will not press my amendment tonight, but I look forward to further discussions, and I must warn the Government that if I do not get satisfactory answers I intend to bring this back on Report.”

On a previous occasion the Mayor’s Office thought they had got agreement from the Government to go ahead.  They will not be pleased to be rebuffed again.