Ever harsher punishment is not the answer

In light of last week’s reports on the rise of violent crime and weapons found on young people in schools, Barry Mizen appeared on various news outlets, including an appearance on BBC Breakfast, to speak from his perspective about the issue. Barry and Margaret Mizen, MBEs have written the following letter to give a more detailed response on their views on what is needed to prevent the increasing violence in our communities.

My wife, Margaret, and I are invited to many schools around the country to speak of our experiences and we have also been invited into Pupil Referral Units and prisons to speak to individuals that have committed awful crimes. We do not do this to lecture or talk down to people, but to encourage and offer a message of hope.

The path we are on has been a steep learning curve into why some people do what they do. We are constantly asking ourselves and those around us, where does the behaviour come from, is it nature or nurture?

It’s important that when we offer another view; whether to the media, in the public talks we give or just in everyday conversations, to say that it is not based on supposition, it is what we have learned over the past nine years.

Having spoken, and more importantly, listened to many young people and adults over the years, we are inclined to take the view that it is the lived experience that produces these acts of violence and anti-social behaviour. It’s almost as if they couldn’t behave any other way and in essence, some young people are their own worst enemies.

Firstly, we think it is vital to change the narrative when it comes to preventing the violence we are constantly being made aware of. We understand the voices that call for ever harsher punishment, partly out of the frustration people feel at what seems to be the helplessness of the situation, but mistakenly in the assumption that it will act as a deterrent.

When young people are giving full vent to their anger, they are not thinking rationally or logically and the consequences of their actions are not even a consideration. Therefore, we believe the threat of ever harsher punishment being a deterrent is mistaken.

Importantly, consequences have to be applied and this does help victims and their families to manage the trauma of a violent crime, but let’s not stop at the imposition of consequences without also looking into the history of the perpetrator. Let’s find out what the common denominators are, how did this come about? What could we do differently to prevent another young person going down the same hopeless road?

If we can change the response to one where we also ask the question, where did this behaviour come from? And to use the evidence to effect change, it could be a valuable beginning. We just might start to turn the tide of a problem that at present is not going away.

Barry and Margaret Mizen, MBEs

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