Punishment not the right answer
THERE are many people of my more mature stage in life who feel that the only way to solve the problems society has with young people is to bring back all the methods of discipline that we experienced in our youth.
Oh, that it were that easy! But society has moved on and bringing back the physical sanctions of old is no solution to the modern, politically correct society we inhabit today.
Looking back is always a dangerous occupation, for it assumes that we lived in a society that was well-disciplined, respected authority, and never needed to use the sanctions that were available.
As a primary school pupil at James Gillespie's Boys School, in Edinburgh - the one attended by Ronnie Corbett - I was belted for allegedly setting off a fire extinguisher. The incident sticks in my mind to this day. We were standing in a corridor waiting to be inoculated, when someone set off the extinguisher.
The head went ballistic, and when no-one owned up, counted five on either side of the appliance and gave each six of the best. His aim was bad and he hit my wrists. I sobbed all the way home, not just because of the pain, but because of the injustice of the innocent being punished.
My mother saw the damage and went to see the head and told him what she thought. I was a marked pupil and glad to move on to the Royal High where the belt was used, but only in extreme circumstances. Belting never did win hearts and influence pupils.
The birch, I suspect, was the same. In some circles, the birch was seen as a punishment for violent behaviour. But its very use perpetrated violence often against young people with social problems, and who already felt inadequate and failed by the system.
Hanging is regarded by some as the simple solution to rising crime figures. They seem to believe if you hang people it becomes a deterrent. In the United States, the methods of execution vary, and death rows all over the country are full of young African Americans who may have to wait years for the confirmation of their sentence.
Execution has not acted as a deterrent. Death rows are crowded with the poor and disadvantaged of society. Execution is final. Hanging degraded the victims and the accused alike. Many innocent people were executed. The horror of the Ruth Ellis execution where she was drugged with alcohol before being led out to the gallows changed public opinion and led to the abolition of hanging.
And the final bring back is National Service. Many young people enjoyed it, while others thought it a waste of valuable time when they could have been better employed studying or continuing their careers. My own experience was very positive. I studied for entry to the seminary, made many good friends and was to move on to become an RAF padre.
But National Service was costly to the State, and dependent for its success on the individuals who administered the units, from the commanding officers to the NCOs. The idea of some form of compulsory, community service would not go amiss. Asbos have a limited use, and one of the things that seems to be missing in the young people of today is a form of self discipline that treats others with respect.
WITH some, you are more than likely to receive verbal abuse if you even try to reason with them. That is sad. They are so full of their rights, they care nothing for responsibilities.
The old form of military service is not needed, but communities could create their own networks of tasks to be done, so that young people could take ownership of their localities instead of painting them with graffiti and spreading litter everywhere.
At the moment, the judicial process is creaking. It takes ages for a case to arrive in court, and it is administered by a central system in Edinburgh. In Queensferry we used to have our own courtroom where the bailies or justices sat and dealt out punishments watched by members of the local community. Now justice is no longer seen as a local community responsibility, it has been removed to the central court system and very few in the local area know what happens to the locals who end up in court.
Why not bring back local courts? Why not get the wayward young people the task of cleaning up their mess. If they damage bus shelters or telephone boxes, make them repair them. If they spread litter, make them clean up litter. It would get them involved in the community and may help them to see it through different eyes.
No, I don't want to bring back. But I do want to move forward and see if we can find other ways of creating social responsibility which are meaningful and relevant to the society of today.
I still find myself checking my wrists to see if the marks of that memorable belting remain!
• Councillor Rev Dr George Grubb is councillor for South Queensferry, and a member of the Howard League of Penal Reform. He won Edinburgh University's Gold Medal for Criminology in 1971
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