Without proper boundaries, there is an all-too-familiar escalation from childhood misdemeanours to juvenile anti-social behaviour to adult criminality. Children at risk of offending are not made to face the consequences of their actions. As a result, they grow up without ever learning to respect the law, authority and the community in which they live. We need to become comfortable again with the notion of punishment as a consequence of anti-social behaviour. And the criminal justice system must reinforce responsibility and ensure that offending always has consequences which are visible to the law-abiding majority.
We need to insist that offenders accept their responsibilities, too: by paying back to society and victims; by making reparation, including participating in restorative justice where appropriate; by working in community payback and completing the task, and by earning their release from prison rather than expecting early release.
But individual responsibility is only one side of the coin. Social responsibility is the other, and it’s also vital to safer communities. We need to ensure that parents take responsibility for their children’s behaviour. We need to ensure that schools have the responsibility and power to enforce discipline.
The Integrated Offender Management approach in Bristol aims for a collective responsibility for a safer city: police, probation, local businesses and offenders themselves taking responsibility for their actions. Our review of the licensing laws will ensure that businesses accept their responsibilities to prevent binge drinking.
The Coalition’s programme for government speaks of ‘a Big Society matched by big citizens’. Part of that means fostering a resurgence in community activism to galvanise action by local groups, encouraging communities to share responsibility for making their neighbourhoods safer.
This is not about the State shirking its responsibilities, but precisely the opposite – the State firmly supporting people to do the right thing. In the 1950s there were 67,000 Special Constables – nearly five times the number today. There are already over 3.5 million people involved with Neighbourhood Watch. We have not begun to fulfil the potential of social action to help tackle crime.