>Can a child "psychopath" ever be rehabilitated?

>Following the public outcry surrounding the minimum sentence of five years given to the brothers who tortured and abused two young children in Yorkshire, Grazia magazine has published an article based on the opinion of Pam Hibbert who was the former manager of the secure home in which Jamie Bulger’s killer Jon Venables served his sentence. For those of you who don’t have the mag, here it is:

” Life in the 10 secure homes in England where the youngest and most serious child offenders are locked up, is centered on two things: keeping the public safe from these children and these children safe from themselves. It means there are CCTV cameras and locks to keep them secure, as well as plastic windows and recessed door hinges so there is nothing they can do to harm themselves.

Days inside one of these units will focus on instilling a routine that most of these children have never known – simple tasks like washing regularly or eating at a table. They will get up at the same time, have breakfast and a normal school day before doing activities like gym or crafts and therapy work before bed. Their rooms are bare and they must earn privileges like posters for the walls or a radio through good behaviour. The routine is the same all year round except for two weeks at Christmas when lessons stop.

These young people are certainly being punished for what they have done and asked to take responsibility for it. It is highly likely the two brothers will be separated – the boys who killed Jamie Bulger were – because work will be done to enable them to face up to what they did, so they will not be able to blame each other. This process can be incredibly painful and we shouldn’t forget they are children too. That is why they are supported by expert staff who offer them the first consistent and safe environment most have ever known.

We don’t know why some children who are neglected and abused commit awful crimes and others dont. But whatever the reason, I have seen how well they respond to a structured environment. None of the few very young children convicted of the most serious crimes have ever gone on to reoffend as an adult. There has also been no rise in the numbers of very young children committing the most serious offences over the past three decades.

For me, it’s a question of what we want to achieve in the aftermath of these terrible crimes. Of course, the victims deserve the very best support, but when we lock children up, some as young as 10, do we simply want to punish them? Often, they have been badly let down by everyone around them all their lives, so do we want to give them a chance to lead a responsible adult life by giving them the tools to do it? Most of us are shown this by our parents. Shouldn’t these children have the same opportunity?”

Certainly a thought provoking article and one that I can identify with having worked in an anti social behaviour unit at a police station in my last job. I encountered many children from the ages of 10 – 18 (and some younger) who had committed crime of varying degrees, the more serious and more prolific crimes were often committed by children who’s parenting had left much to be desired. I was shocked and saddened by some of the things I heard and saw, from two year olds being put through windows to unlock the doors of a property to let their parents in to commit a burglary, kids left outside and given drugs and booze to keep them quiet while their mums saw to their clients until 5am and children addicted to crack at the age of 8! I now work with older offenders and some of these offenders are the kids that I asbo’d some years back, some of whom have continued in their life of crime simply because they don’t know any different and are encouraged to do so by their families and others that have no one there for them and who have turned to crime to survive.

What these two children did in Yorkshire was horrific and unforgivable, but like Pam Hibbert said, do they deserve to be provided with the tools to create a responsible adult life or do they simply need to be locked up and never rehabilitated? Some might say you can’t rehabilitate someone like that and that they are pure evil, but I suppose that then brings the nature versus nurture debate into play – these kids weren’t born evil, they were moulded by their parents, peers and surroundings.

Personally I think that these children are evil for what they did and clearly have no grasp of what is right or wrong, but given the right levels of support, discipline and punishment there is every chance that they could be rehabilitated and stay away from offending in future. I don’t however believe they should be released after only five years because they will be released when they are still very young and impressionable and clearly have a lot of personal issues that need to be addressed along with support to ensure that they are ready for eventual independent living once released which I really don’t think someone who is still a child on release will be able to cope with. Not to mention the fact that these children inflicted an awful lot of physical and mental pain on two children which will stay with them and their families for the rest of their lives, can only five years really reflect that – I don’t think so!

So what do you think?

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