Searching for alternatives: restorative justice and why it matters for young people

Searching for alternatives: restorative justice and why it matters for young people

Author note: Harry Blain is editor-in-chief of the 99% Campaign The justice system frequently fails young people. Youth incarceration has proven socially and personally destructive, permanently damaging future life prospects, while failing to deter crime. The home of juvenile incarceration is unquestionably the United States, which “incarcerates more young people under the age of 18 than any other industrialized country in the world.” South Africa, in second, incarcerates its youth at one-fifth of the U.S. rate. The evidence suggests that this punitive approach is, essentially, a failure. According to the US Bureau of Justice Statistics, in some juvenile detention facilities, recidivism rates are over 80 per cent, “meaning that the bulk of these young people will eventually add to the burgeoning prison population.” The author Nell Bernstein, in her impressive survey of youth incarceration in the United States, Burning Down the House: The End of Juvenile Prison, puts it simply: “Children, it turns out, will never thrive in storage.” She argues that the failed punitive approach is, to a large extent, a product of a media-driven “fabrication of the so-called ‘super-predator’ – soulless, vacant-eyed (and, it turned out, fictional) teens who would as soon kill you as steal your Walkman.” We are also familiar with this in Britain, where isolated – though unquestionably awful cases – cover the front pages, creating an impression of young offenders as potential sociopaths and murderers. The horrific recent killing of Ann Maguire at the hands of her student, 15 year-old Will Cornick, was one such case, with the Mirror’s headline reading: “Ann Maguire murder: Evil schoolboy Will Cornick ‘proud’ of stabbing teacher to...
Benefits sanctions: more evidence of their destructive impact

Benefits sanctions: more evidence of their destructive impact

Author note: Harry Blain is the editor-in-chief of the 99% Campaign Benefits sanctions and food banks (again) These stories are becoming all too familiar. A study from Cheshire Hunger, with the University of Chester and the Trussell Trust, indicates that “benefit sanctions can plunge families into financial crisis, hunger, and dependency on food banks for up to half a year, far longer than the period for which they have had payments stopped.” According to the study, “problems with social security benefit payments accounted for nearly half (47%) of referrals” to West Cheshire food bank, and “[t]he biggest crisis category other than benefit delays and sanctions was low income and debt (31%) caused typically by high utility bills and housing costs, with crises lasting one to four weeks.” Evidence is mounting to indicate the destructive social consequences of sanctions and austerity more broadly. Meanwhile, a report from Church Action on Poverty has found that nearly 100 000 children went hungry last year as a result of benefit cuts imposed on their parents. “A total of more than a million benefit sanctions were imposed last year”, writes Ian Johnston in the Independent, “sometimes simply because people were late for an appointment at the Jobcentre – although more than 120,000 of those decisions were overturned on appeal.” Niall Cooper, a co-author of the report, put it lucidly: “If you commit a crime, no court is allowed to make you go hungry as a punishment. But if you’re late for an appointment at the Jobcentre they can remove all your income and leave you unable to feed you or your family for weeks.”...