Thursday 13 August 2009

Poverty of opportunity

Scotland's Justice Secretary's claim ("MacAskill: Justice in Scotland is sexist", The Herald, August 12) does not sit well with Dr Cyrus Tata's comments in the background analysis in the same edition ("Is the justice system failing women whose lives have gone off the rails?"). Dr Tata says the evidence for claims of systemic sexism is "limited" and "mixed". Dr Tata recommends proper research.

If Mr MacAskill is going to talk about discrimination, he should speak about the elephant in our court room: the relationship between poverty of opportunity and recidivist crime. People living in areas of deprivation are two and a half times more likely to be the victim of a crime than the average rate for Scotland. Domestic abuse is twice as prevalent among those on low incomes. Male prisoners are four times as likely to come from areas of poverty and inequality.

The fact a child grows up with perhaps one or two generations of parents who have never worked and have no aspiration creates a poverty of opportunity for that child. If the parents are junkies, steal or get out of their faces every day, how hard is it for that child to escape that life?

In truth, we park people in prison and park them in ghettoes in between periods of incarceration. How should Scotland address this dilemma?

Mr MacAskill knows we have a growing prison population and a dearth of prison space. He does not want to build more prisons. While overcrowding would be eased by forcing the court not to jail people who would otherwise be sentenced to six months or less, how does this further the public interest?

If Scotland is to extinguish the blaze of repeat offending, we need well-funded schemes which sheriffs could offer to convicted young offenders, such as the chance to escape jail subject to strict curfews and successful participation in a co-ordinated scheme personal to them.

A radical solution would entail co-ordinated addiction services, anger management, social skills and, critically, the opportunity to learn a trade or skill, or gain educational qualifications, with placements with employers. The opportunity to secure a job and have a decent life is one sure way to prevent offending and poverty.

Share on Facebook

No comments:

Post a Comment