The Malta Independent 30 May 2020, Saturday

Is out of sight, out of mind?

Andrew Azzopardi Wednesday, 20 May 2020, 06:44 Last update: about 9 days ago

The headlines these last years have been topped by stories about young men (mostly) and women apprehended by the police with a list of crimes fit for mafia crime lords; whether they are accused of violence against people and animals, reckless driving, larceny, violence against police officers – evidence that we have numerous young people who seem to have slipped through the social welfare safety net and landed in the justice system.

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We all know that once ‘you’ start to roil in the justice system, you are probably in for the long haul. Once you brush against this route, there is hardly any chance of coming out unscathed.

The Crime Prevention Strategy for the Maltese Islands 20172021, Public consultation document (2016), penned by Dr Janice Formosa Pace, an expert in this field and an academic within the Department of Youth and Community Studies, following consultation with various experts, states that:

A number of crime promoters of delinquent behaviour are school-related such as truancy, absenteeism, poor academic achievement… (p.14). She goes on to say that:

Furthermore, from a sociallearning perspective, schools are considered as fulcrum to the design and running of crime prevention programmes on a national scale. Also, this is the most practical place to reach different children and youths aged less than 16 years in a setting wherein they socially interact on a daily basis and the setting that represents the melting pot of families that reside in Malta (p.14).

This document goes into minute detail and lays out a strategic plan on how to change the direction of how we are currently doing things when it comes to crime prevention. This highly researched document not only hints at having improved facilities, enhanced laws and adequate professional training, but also looks at the many institutions that govern our communities and rests the responsibility on them as well.

I find it rather difficult to believe that behavior such as that of young people mentioned at the beginning of this piece is coincidental. With such conduct, these young people are for sure dented socially and psychologically. Whilst I do appreciate that we tend to sympathize with the victims, whether they are human beings or animals, we also need to have the pluck to realize that such behavior is the result of a dysfunctional and broken person. What surprises me is that were it for the general public we’d rather lynch these young people and stop there.

It seems that we just cannot see beyond this atrocious behavior of these young people. Behind this gruesome demeanor lies a narrative of agony, rejection and negative role-modelling.

Programmes intended to reduce violence by youths and victimisations of youths should focus on a wide-range of areas. These include anger management, impulsivity control, emotional control, empathy, problem solving, conflict leading to violence, behaviour modification, positive social skills, social competency skills which are eventually aimed to bring about the development of resilience once the struggle to transform oneself is practiced. This said, it is important to highlight that the success of such programmes is heavily dependent on whether or not adolescents acknowledge the need for behavioural modification and eventually react positively (Zemel, Ronel & Einat, 2016). (p.10)

We need to ask ourselves what measure of responsibility should society assume.

• Did our schools let such young people slip away and not realize that such behavior as truancy, conflict in the school yard were all symptomatic of what could have initiated this monstrous behavior?

• Did our non-formal structures like MUSEUM, VOs, football clubs, youth centres reject instead of embrace these young people?

• Did the parents of these young people fail to provide a structured life, discipline, good food, a good neighborhood and good role modelling?

• Did our justice system make a meal out of the actions of these young people rather than try to push for rehabilitative programmes and therapy?

• Did our rehabilitative programs become too selective for these young people, excluding them by design?

• Did our police officers, the judiciary, our correctional facilities get the necessary training on how to deal with these young people, once they are in their ‘care’?

• Did we employ enough youth workers to be engaged in the community, especially when it comes to the practice of de

tached youth work?

• Did these young people come from crime families – did we bother trying to understand where they come from instead of simply pathologizing them?

• Did our social benefits and social services perpetuate victimization and a self-defeatist mentality rather than help young people to jump-start their lives?

• Did we invest enough research funds in the area of youth justice?

• Did young people need to fit into services instead of the other way round, making them pariahs notwithstanding these services were designed for them?

• Did our media fuel disproportionate luridness in cases where young people are involved?

If this is the case, I declare that these young people should be ‘acquitted’ for societal thoughtlessness, callousness and tactlessness. Their behavior is still appalling, dreadful and contemptible but I truly believe that there are guiltier parties in this state of affairs which we conveniently choose to ignore.

Plonking people into cells is not the answer. True these young people are out of sight and so one would think out of mind, but what is happening is that we are designing personae who will continue to interpret institutions as their adversaries.

I believe this Crime Prevention Strategy provides us with a welldefined road map;

Thus, a 5-year action plan is proposed, which is intended to reduce crimes committed by youths and ultimately aims to facilitate desistence from crime throughout the life course. Also, one cannot consider that youths constitute a homogenous group and their social reality is dynamic, a situation synonymous to living in a globalised world. (p.17) Do we want young people to focus on their careers, relationships, employment, enjoyment, travel, sports or on criminal intent? If, we are going for the former, we need to let go of our vindictiveness and look at these individuals straight in their eyes and ask for forgiveness for we have sinned against them.

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