We can’t fix ‘problems’ by simply locking them away!

Youth with knifeToo often, many of the problems we face today come from dogmatic thinking and the application of short-term policy.

Government and organisational leaders carry on delivering the same ‘solutions’ that they previously used, irrespective of any success or failure. Just so long as they look good and appear to be doing something productive.

When they don’t work, they simply throw more resources at the issue to fix the problem. Sometimes that’s OK and can work in part. But what happens when you have no additional resources? Or, the resources you once had (when you last ‘fixed’ the problem), have been significantly reduced? Will your thoughts about solutions to fix the problem be successful? As we are seeing with so many issues, the answer is…unlikely, if at all.

Enter that common cliché – “thinking outside the box” – and the political mantra of recent austere times – “we need to do more with less” but the problem is; we tend not to be that good at unpacking our thoughts and worryingly, we’re not fixing the issues that need fixing!

Service Delivery

Services that support our society are mostly about money today, not about matching resources to demand or need. The public sector is now mostly about risk-averse bureaucracy, management top-heavy and constantly required to follow the demands of finance directors, irrespective of any operational demand.

Decisions are, almost exclusively, made around the last quarter’s expenditure and deciding how the next quarter’s reduced budget can be stretched. Will there be enough money to pay for what we’re legally required to do? If we forget about what we once did, because we can no longer afford to do it, will we be able to react effectively to any temporary additional demand? What happens if something happens that we didn’t or couldn’t expect? Even when functionality is directed by a legal (or ethical) framework, those tasks now require prioritisation… must do, like to do, can’t do this month (or year, or ever).

It’s all about the here and now; personal promotion and little or no investment in the future… Why would I want to, that won’t reflect on me!

Fast & Loose Politics

In almost every aspect of support functionality in our society, managers struggle to make resources match demands. Sectors like our emergency services, public protection, healthcare and social support should all be demand driven and funded accordingly. Not delivered on a basis of postcodes, politically motivated funding or an individual’s ability to pay for those services.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not some closet socialist or a dyed-in-the-wool political activist. I accept that as with every commodity or service, there is no such thing as a free-lunch, everything has a cost… which must be met, somehow and by somebody. My concern is that we have moved way too far away from supporting those in our society least able to support themselves. We are failing to protect the vulnerable, we are failing to treat the sick, the state is failing to protect the people.

It’s all about the here and now; personal promotion and little or no investment in the future… Why would I want to, that won’t reflect on me!

Sector Management

A great deal of today’s sector management is short-sighted. It adheres to process with little or no forward planning or vision for any future outcomes. As with so much in our society today, prominent drivers are all about the here and now, a quick fix and hopefully, another line of nepotic endorsement before adjustment of the CV before the next role.

Why plan for future demand and issues? It’s unlikely you will be there, somebody else can carry the can of any failure. The whole process is reflected across the ‘leadership’ of career politicians within successive governments over several decades. The only ‘service’ is mostly all about self-serving and personal advancement. All of which delivers perverse outcomes because few are prepared to examine problems ‘in the round’ i.e. from a systems thinking perspective and plan for the long-term future.

When you get to be a bit longer in the tooth, you also get to witness these constant and cyclic failures of reinventing wheels on vehicles that still need to travel the same road. Now, the road is bumpier and more arduous but the wheel, well that’s less robust and constructed from cheaper less reliable and serviceable materials, and usually specified with a shorter life-span.

Parochialism, entrenched partisan loyalty and groupthink, along with more personal aspirations within the leadership also presents negative impacts for any successful outcomes. Dogma is rarely a good basis for effective decision making about long-term solutions. Especially when dealing with issues that have festered and returned with cyclic regularity. But often, as the process repeats ad infinitum, all we do is throw in a another good measure of arrogance. From people who are sufficiently distant from the problems, they have probably created and don’t really understand what it is they’re trying to fix.

It’s all about the here and now; personal promotion and little or no investment… can you see the pattern?

Forward Vision

Now, perhaps more than ever before, so many issues dictate that our nation needs a good dose of non-partisan views in party politics, or perhaps even, a system that is far less confrontational (in theory) like Syncretic politics but that’s another story. Much of what I’m moving on to discuss below, are issues that are impacted by stereotypical perceptions, along with a dogmatic thinking, which so often isn’t nearly solutions focused anywhere near enough.

Fixing Crime

amazon.co.ukIn the book Criminal: The Truth About Why People Do Bad Things, Tom Gash highlights how we see and understand crime. Our vision tends to fall into one of two main types of story. Throughout human history – in fiction as in fact – we have been told and retold stories about crime. Criminality is either (1) a selfish choice, an aberration or (2) a forced choice, the product of social factors and peer or family pressures. These story streams continue to dominate both our views of and responses to crime. Tom Gash says they’re both completely wrong.

There is also a need to dispel many of the myths that inform our views of crime. I hold my hands up, just like so many others I came from the school of… he/she did wrong, throw the key away however; I always wanted to understand why people do what they do, not simply judge their behaviour as ‘wrong’ because it was different to mine… or what is/was socially expected or accepted.

Tom argues that; our obsession with the ‘big arguments’ about crime, and the cause of crime, can “lead us to mistake individual cases as proof of universal rules.” Politicians may rattle out the soundbites about being “tough on crime and the causes of crime” but, ingrained social issues need more than political rhetoric. Within Criminal Tom suggests we need to; “suspend our knee-jerk reactions, and begin to understand crime for what it is: a risk that can be managed and reduced.”

Too often today, far too many only see social issues as a ‘problem’ when it has a direct impact upon them. Much of this thinking comes from arrogance, that and only being interested in the here and now, plus the inherent personal promotion. The major factor that drives this is; this arrogance comes from people who have little or no comprehension of the issues impacting the people they are so far removed from. And, as the chasm between well-off and poverty widens, so does the level of the understanding and empathy.

New Thinking Required

Recently, I read a piece from Russel Webster that examined research into the consequences of prosecuting parents for their children’s school truancy (see here). The first part of the article that caught my eye was… 71% of those people prosecuted in 2017 were women. Factor in the probability of absent fathers within the equation and then consider the impacts on any children in these families.

As the researchers acknowledge, the ‘sample of respondents is self-selected and inevitably unrepresentative’ however; “there are varied underlying social, health and educational factors involved here” and most of them are worthy of serious concern. For me (again) it proved the fact; locking someone away, for whatever period of time, doesn’t actually fix an issue. This is even more relevant when there are myriad individual and social factors at play. A single (media driven) solution, based upon (politically manipulated and interpreted statistics) does not fit all situations.

Moreover, punitive measures and political ‘tough on crime’ rhetoric won’t resolve problems born of domestic issues, or social and public health factors. Incarceration is a poor attempt to shore-up the absence of family connections and our now inadequate or failing social support networks.

By continually failing to acknowledge (and consider) all the individual factors in socially generated problems we are simply causing further damage to individuals, communities and our society. All of this is compounded by political direction and the mischievous emotive media reporting that distorts perceptions of reality. Yes things are crap for many but constantly telling our society that things are crap only helps to build on levels of anxiety and fear that already exist. Which leads me to the next bit…

Our #KnifeCrime Epidemic

Most of this current crime-wave, with it’s worrying prevalence for increased violence, is born out of poverty and inequality. The ethics of right or wrong, let alone considering the devastating impacts for others, features fairly low in the thought process of any perpetrator. These ‘offenders’ (in so many cases) see their violent actions as simply… doing what needs to be done to survive, and to protect their family (and assets) in an increasingly unequal world.

In many ways there is very little ethical difference between city financial shysters and today’s street gangs. Or concern for other humans outside their own chosen grouping. Greed and self-interest abound in these lucrative markets.

The city slickers mysteriously create wealth by manipulating other people’s money, in processes that often amount to little more than legalised daylight robbery. The latter ‘crews’ operate their lucrative deals on the street, within intricate webs of illicit demand and supply chains. When consider how many of the shysters also happen to be important customers of the Yardie and Possee ‘crews’ you have to wonder… is self-interest and greed a common denominator in this social-blight.

But remember, the groups that help to make up today’s London Street Gangs are only the latest social and economic realisation of an age-old process, it isn’t really a new phenomenon. The history of London abounds with ‘gang culture’ going as far back as the 17th Century with groups like the Damned Crew, who were part of the indigenous population.

Neither are these ‘crews’ peculiar to one particular cultural origin, although those of Jamaican origin are often seen as the ‘founders’ of inner-city gang culture, particularly in London. This comes from historical and cultural factors in the development of the city’s cultural diversity. London is and probably always has been, a melting pot of cultural diversity, concentrated in a relatively small geographic area. It’s worth noting that London doesn’t have a monopoly on gang-culture, there have been gangs across England for decades, predominantly large cities and urban areas.

amazon.co.ukBut as eloquently espoused by the journalist and author Kingslee Daley (aka Akala); “Knife crime isn’t about race, it’s about poverty” (see below). Our society and the disparity of opportunities within a society where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, is the root cause of the violence we are now witnessing.

All said, irrespective of what is hopefully a temporary escalation of the problem, gang culture and/or youth violence is not a new phenomenon. Over many decades we have experienced similar issues. But society has tended to focus upon situations like the unrest at Notting Hill Carnivals or, the violence of the Brixton Riots of 1981, 1985. Add to this the Broadwater Farm riot in the same year or latterly, the riots of 2011 across England and we start to see a picture building. All these extensively reported (but often only partly understood) events, have race or cultural factors within their root cause. But race is not the real driver of the anger and violence. Again the issue is poverty and disparity of opportunity, along with (actual or perceived) inequalities around law enforcement.

The TV Debate

Nothing New to See Here

UK Gang Culture (as we have come to understand it) isn’t something new. Gangs have been evident within our history for decades, since at least the early part of the 20th century, if not before. The Kray Twins, during the 1950s and 1960s were the forerunners of organised crime in the East End of London (if not the UK). There is much history to evidence the fact; criminal gang culture is historically entrenched in our society.

London’s Gangs Have Changed: Being involved in gangs significantly increases the likelihood of becoming either a victim or a perpetrator of violence. (The Guardian Opinion)

What hasn’t really changed is the fact that these ‘gangs’ are born out of the need or desire to make money… and protect their family, their investments, their crews and their often substantial earnings.

Drugs Business: A study suggests London gangs are driven by desire to profit from the illicit drug trade. Focus has shifted from turf wars to business-led ethos… (The Guardian)

No shit… somebody understands, finally! And nothing we do around enforcement will ever fix these many issues. The UK Criminal Justice System will always be playing catch-up in the continuing failed war on drugs.

Law Enforcement & The Criminal Justice System

There is still no better definition of what policing should really be about than the original (ethical) Principles of policing developed by Sir Robert Peel in the 1800’s.

The test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with it. (Sir Robert Peel)

The attempts to deal with the impact of drugs on our society, mostly by means of policing and enforcement, have completely skewed the ethics of policing. The process is also a failure and, to a great extent, is simply a politically driven policy. Our drug laws are now additionally promoting latter day perceptions around policing process which include; greater levels of mistrust, increased fear and inherent beliefs around the inequality of application in law enforcement. As Neil Woods (LEAP UK) wrote in his piece on the Skewed Approach to Policing; “We are talking about policing tactics and actions which are likely to increase crime.”

…but we give the impression to the public that it’s to make their communities safer. This is an incorrect reassurance, not allowing the evidence of failures in current policy to influence the voting public… (Neil Woods, LEAP UK)

It’s way too easy to blame the police for the failures of the politicians. Many in policing actually understand many of the issues that the politicians are clearly unable or unwilling to grasp (sea below). Additionally, it’s also easy to suggest that the police are “racist” in their application of drugs laws. It’s not that the police are racist, at least no more than the remainder of our society, merely that they are obliged (in part) to apply inappropriate laws to mitigate against a misunderstood problem. In what is still (unfortunately) a divided society (see Policing Drugs in a Racist Society).

The Law Enforcement Action Partnership Mission Statement: is to reduce the multitude of harmful consequences resulting from our current drug policies and to lessen the incidence of death, disease, crime and addiction. We’re advocates for evidence based policies with a public health focus for drugs and mental health. You can find out more at their website www.ukleap.org.

Cultural & Community Factors

amazon.co.ukAnother factor that hasn’t really changed is the social structure of youthful tribalism, which is something that isn’t specifically born in the colour of somebody’s skin, or within their cultural origins, even if it appears to that way sometimes (thanks to the media).

This can be evidenced by the Mods & Rockers movement of the 1960’s, along with the later emergence of the Skinhead movement. The later race related riots of the 1970’s and 1980’s simply served to reinforce the incorrect cultural stereotype perceptions however; civil unrest in England, and particularly in London also isn’t new.

A common denominator that has nearly always been present here is; large proportion of disaffected youth in poor communities who are disconnected from the society they live in, and have little or no opportunities to improve their lot.

The Politics: She said, He said, They said, I said

As ever the politicians, community leaders, political activists and the media are all chewing over the fat of the problem. Whilst slinging expertly aimed brickbats and well-intentioned accusations at each other, calling out those factors (and hopefully individuals if at all possible) that are responsible for the crime-wave of “epidemic” proportions that we face on our streets.

Police chief says rise in knife crime in England is national emergency – Senior officer calls for emergency funding and Cobra meeting to tackle violent crime (The Guardian)

  • Theresa May says; there is No link between knife crime and police cuts but the Met police cannot ‘magic officers out of thin air’ to deal with rise in stabbings (read more).
  • Met police chief (Cressida Dick) says rising violent crime and officer cuts are linked and rejects claim by PM of no correlation between stabbings and police numbers (read more).
  • The PM was urged to fix school exclusion system to tackle knife crime by Sadiq Khan and seven police and crime commissioners who say the ‘broken’ system is to blame (read more).
  • Sajid Javid has apparently clashed with Theresa May over police cuts in a stormy cabinet meeting where he called for urgent cash to quell violence (read more)
  • The Chancellor, rejected any calls for a cash injection to solve the problem by telling the police to prioritise knife crime, which resulted in the Police Federation saying the chancellor’s comments showed ‘shocking lack of awareness’ (read more).
  • Teenagers are being killed. But more policing is too simple an answer says Gary Younge, Investing in youth services, mental health and schools for all children could end the terrible scourge of knife crime (read more)

True to form for so many of our politicians; Sadiq Khan was admonished by Robert Peston in a TV interview about the country’s knife crime crisis, accusing Khan of “dodging questions“ and “not addressing” pertinent issues (see here).

Sadiq Khan today rolled his eyes and said ‘I’ve done all I can’ as he was grilled over his failure to tackle London’s knife crime epidemic – four years after promising to do ‘everything in my power’ to cut stop and search. (Daily Mail)

Writing in The Telegraph, Iain Duncan Smith accused Sadiq Khan of; “playing politics” and “failing to take responsibility” for stopping knife crime across the capital, as Khan effectively control’s the Metropolitan police’s funding and governance in London (see here).

Sadiq Khan has ‘power to STOP murders but WON’T take responsibility’ rages Duncan Smith (The Express)

And the Beat Goes On

Meanwhile, as politicians, police and community leaders all continue to have meetings about the whys and wherefores, kids keeping getting injured, maimed and killed on our streets.

Sean, 19…  is one of thousands of youths negotiating byzantine gang rivalries and coalitions whose subtle shifts can mean the difference between life and death. Violent disputes involving knives and guns blow up over the lucrative cannabis and cocaine trade as well as “beef” spread through music and video clips on Instagram and YouTube. (The Guardian)

Already stretched ambulance services and paramedics are rushing to the scenes of more stabbings, struggling to keep fragile bodies alive. Young live’s hanging by a thread are transported to under-resourced A&E Depts before being transferred to limited ITU beds. Hopefully they recover and the underfunded equally over-stretched police service is able to successfully investigate and prosecute the offender(s) but what then?

‘Children feel peers are armed’: why the UK’s knife attacks are relentless. Clusters of fatal stabbings are unpredictable but not entirely random, say experts (The Guardian)

The cyclic process continues that’s what happens. The only variance is when a victim subsequently dies. Then, another family grieves, another gang tools up to level the score, the offender (if captured and if convicted) gets a longer sentence (perhaps) and for that period of time, there’s one less perpetrator on the streets (for now), with plenty more ready to take his or her place.

Rehabilitation of Offenders

Perhaps society (driven by the media) thinks we should just lock people away for ever and that will fix the issues? We can’t and it won’t and if we could, do people really think longer prison sentences are really the answer? Do we really expect that our criminals will simply be so old and pissed off when they get released that they won’t cause any more problems? More flawed wishful thinking… Get a fucking grip!

Even if we could arrest and incarcerate every single offender, and we can’t (and shouldn’t), our over reliance upon the penal system for rehabilitation is also left wanting, in many respects. Under funding and flawed systems within the Criminal Justice System abound (see example below).

And Finally…

We can’t even get governments to build enough houses for us all to live in. We have families reliant upon food-bank handouts and we have homeless people suffering from addictions. People who are self-medicating against trauma, social ills and the impacts of poverty. Yet all the time, we expect the police to lock our children up and the government to build more jails to put our ‘criminals’ in… how fucked up is that?

The number of fatal stabbings in England and Wales in 2017-18 was the highest since records began. The BBC looked at the circumstances in the first 100 killings of 2019 in the UK. Stabbings were the largest single cause of death, totalling 41 fatalities out of 100, with the remaining 59 resulting from other causes such as assault or fire (read more). And, just as I’m about to finish my post, another young life lays extinguished in the morgue…

A teenager has been stabbed to death in west London amid a spate of violent knife crime in the capital. Police were called to Lanfrey Place, off North End Road where officers and paramedics found a male, aged in his late teens, with stab injuries to his chest. He was taken to hospital in central London but died a short while later. (Evening Standard)

Sadly it continues…

2 thoughts on “We can’t fix ‘problems’ by simply locking them away!

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