Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Tackling Feral Children

The callous murder of 50-year old East Wall resident Aidan O’Kane has led to media reports which refer to the murderers as “children”. That may be the legal definition based on age, but this is just the latest and most extreme outrage perpetrated by gangs of anti-social young thugs who seem able to terrorise neighbourhoods with impunity and with no credible legal deterrent. The general public feels helpless, not knowing how to deal with these “feral children”, despite this being a problem that has been widely recognised and growing for several years.

Former Minister for Justice Michael McDowell proposed the introduction of electronic tagging but, to date, nothing appears to have been done in this regard. Objectors to this scheme point out that it generally hasn’t had the desired impact in the UK and that such tagging risks becoming a badge of honour among these young thugs.

Could a variant of the UK scheme make a tagging scheme here something that these youths would wish to avoid, rather than becoming something to brag about?

If you attempt to leave a shop without the electronic tag being removed from an item of clothing, it sets off an alarm at the door. Why can’t we reverse this process and design a system where an offender’s electronic tag sets off the alarm when he/she attempts to enter a shopping centre, shop, cinema, pub, club, public building etc etc.? If entry to most such places was barred to tagged offenders, it might just take the hard-man gloss off having to carry the tag. It might also become a bit of a bore to hang around with a tagged friend who can’t get into such places.

Obviously tackling the underlying social problems will require a multi-faceted carrot & stick approach, of which tagging would be just one small element. But we need to make sure that the stick is effective when we choose to use it.

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