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Highgate magistrate questions treatment of young offenders

PUBLISHED: 11:41 09 June 2008 | UPDATED: 15:08 07 September 2010

A HARINGEY magistrate has spoken out at the way Britain is dealing with young offenders. She has also warned that if crime is to be reduced in the long term, more needs to be done to stop children entering the criminal justice system in the first place.

A HARINGEY magistrate has spoken out at the way Britain is dealing with young offenders. She has also warned that if crime is to be reduced in the long term, more needs to be done to stop children entering the criminal justice system in the first place.

Caroline Healy is a magistrate in the adult court at Highgate Magistrates' Court and in the family proceedings court in Barnet. She also works as a government adviser on children's services and was a former director of Childline.

This week she told 'Broadway' that the current debate on knife crime and gang culture is unhelpful because it focuses on the crimes that have been committed and not on the reasons why young people are turning to gangs and weapons.

She said: "I have genuine concerns about the way we are dealing with troubled youngsters in this country. My job is to help them access the services they need and I'm not convinced that criminalising them is in their best interest.

"I'm not saying that bad behaviour should go unpunished, but we use a very heavy sledgehammer to deal with some minor crimes. It's a question of proportionality."

Part of her job includes visiting young offenders in prison. During these visits Ms Healy discovered that the majority of the 3,000 children who are in prison at the moment have been either in local authority care or have recently suffered a family bereavement. These facts are not widely known, she says.

The majority of male teenagers she visits are also underweight, undersized and undernourished - all of which are indicative of an impoverished lifestyle, both emotionally and physically.

The epidemic of stabbings in London - 16 teenagers have been killed this year - is, she says: "A really sad reflection on our society generally - that life is so cheap. I can't begin to explain why these children should have access to guns and knives. But what we have to ask is why they need to have the comfort of gangs in order to function in their social groupings."

She added: "Ideally I would like to see longer sentences given out to fewer teenagers, so that those who end up in prison can embark upon rehabilitation programmes which will really help them to get back on track.


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