Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Kids in trouble

Every now and then the issue of young people in our prisons come up for discussion and some one has new solution. Although our unemployment rate is down to our prison numbers continue to rise. Most of the solutions are proposed by 'experts' who want to fix up the individuals rather than look for deeper answers.

Celia Lashlie is one person in New Zealand who, with her prison superintendent experience and common sense, is able to provide a real understanding of the underlying issues. She believes we should listen to the life narratives of the inmates to really appreciate what they have missed out on their childhoods and what they are in need of if they are to survive out of jail. Celia's experience suggests that what is required to help them gain acceptance is a positive sense of connection with others. All too often 'citizens' turn their backs on such people when they leave jail.

If this sense of connection is not provided gangs become the default destination for such young people . The gangs provide friends, a sense of acceptance and belonging, security and some sort of shared identity. Unfortunately few communities or government organizations have been set up to provide positive alternatives and, if so, help is too fragmented to be of real use. Our current society, premised on individual responsibility and 'winners and losers', does not have a strong sense of the 'common good'.

It would be interesting to follow these young people back to see where it all went all wrong and to put any help in place as early as possible. No society can afford to have within it young people who are so disaffected and alienated that they care little for the community they are forced to live in.

It makes common sense to help children as early as possible. There are those who say that such children can be identified as having 'high risks' as early as pre school. Schools, as well, need to look a the role they play in assisting all students become useful citizens - it seems too easy to suspend students and not to look at the culture of the school as a contributing factor.

John Dewey used to hope that schools could be a community better than society and serve as a lever for social change. In fact schools reflect our society closely and to often emphasize many of its worse features.

It is always easier to blame individuals.

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