Chris Grayling, Shadow Home Secretary, has given a snippet of the criminal justice strategy to be released by the Tories in the autumn. So far it’s not shaping up to be the most-hard hitting or persuasive of measures to tackle anti-social behaviour amongst young people.
The proposal is for the police to be given the power to confiscate bicycles and mobile phone SIM cards for up to a month if a young person is suspected of acting in an anti-social way. This is part of a plan to introduce ‘softer’ measures against teenagers to prevent them committing crimes and to save time and resources administering harsher punishments, such as the infamous ASBO. There are multiple problems with this approach, not least the policy-makers failure to understand the psyche of Britain’s teenagers.
This proposal is the latest in a long line of instances where politicians have sought to bypass some of the fundamental rights which we should enjoy as citizens, no matter what age. Police should not be given the jurisdiction to confiscate and punish ‘at their own discretion’. Giving such powers to police will only result in an abuse and overuse of state control over individuals.
I can see the logic behind Grayling's idea to confiscate bikes and SIM cards from troublesome youths as an intermediate punishment for lesser offences, but in reality it will never work. The type of young person who acts antisocially is probably not going to be put off by having their bike confiscated, they are just going to steal a new one. And by taking their mobile phones, they will no longer be texting one another from their bedrooms, but meeting in gangs in parks and on street corners. The way for authorities to forge productive and respectful relationships with young people is not by confiscating their property.
To tackle antisocial behaviour amongst young people, the Tories will have to attack the root of the problems. First they need to remove the disincentives endemic in the welfare system of modern Britain, rather than blacklisting and demonising them. Most teenagers make up a valuable part of our society, the Tories plans are well intentioned, but show they are still out of touch.