Young people pay the biggest price for PCC election shambles

Source: The Guardian

Published in The Huffington Post on 19th November 2012.

‘Farcical,’ ‘a complete shambles’ and ‘a comedy of errors from start to finish.’ That’s just a taste of the autopsy report on last week’s elections to appoint Police and Crime Commissioners.

Turnout ranged from a dismal 11.6% in Staffordshire to a high of 19.5% in Northamptonshire. The number of people that voted (4.8 million) was only half the total number of reported crimes last year (9.1 million – including London). Despite spending £125 million, David Cameron and Theresa May have somehow managed to preside over the worst election result in British history.

The absurdity of this has naturally dominated the airwaves and blogosphere. Are the results legitimate and can the new PCCs claim a democratic mandate? Why did the government insist on forcing through plans that seem so at odds with the public mood? And why was the money not spent on saving some of the 16,000 police jobs currently being cut?

One question that appears to have been overlooked is why there was little attempt to engage young people on an issue that so disproportionately affects them. 31.8% of 16 to 24 years were a victim of crime last year and the group most likely to be a victim of violence are men aged 16 to 24 (followed by full time students).

Laura Charles, a 20 year old student, told me: “I hear about crime all the time. Barely a week goes by when I don’t hear about someone’s phone or laptop being stolen, or someone being mugged. It’s scary.”

Young people are also more likely to commit crime. The Transition to Adulthood Alliance, a group of leading youth and criminal justice organisations, points out in their Going for Gold report that 18 to 24 year olds make up less than 10% of the population but account for more than one third of the probation service’s caseload and nearly 30% of those given custodial sentences.

Many of the PCCs coming into office have promised to cut crime and make people feel safer. In order to achieve this, they will have to work with community groups to re-examine our entire approach dealing with crime.

Shane Britton from Revolving Doors Agency, a charity working to improve the way the criminal justice system works with people with multiple problems, told me: “The elections passed most young people by. It is now up to the new PCCs to find ways to engage in a meaningful way with young people in their area, and hear what they have to say on issues that proportionally affect them the most.”

I was fortunate enough to be Untied States for the recent election and was able to see Barack Obama’s campaign up close. The number of field organisers and canvassers in their teens or early twenties was striking. And speaking to young people on the door step in Ohio, the majority appeared to be aware of the main issues – particularly in relation to the economy, jobs and local crime.

Part of the reason for this is that there is a concerted effort to engage with them. They increasingly feel that their voice is being heard and that their opinion matters. A presidential election is obviously a world away from attempts to elect a police commissioner in Staffordshire. But it demonstrates that young people, frequently demonised by the mainstream media, can so often surprise us.

The government’s failure to engage with this group is a missed opportunity. Young people have a huge amount at stake when it comes to policing and criminal justice issues and until we effectively bring them into the debate, many of the issues we currently see will remain.

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