Campaign to arrest racketeering;Briefing

11th September 1998 at 01:00

MINISTERS are tightening measures to combat the extortion, bullying, rowdy behaviour, verbal abuse and lack of respect which have become endemic both in and outside of the classroom.

A new law which has just come into force sets a maximum one-year-jail sentence for bullying.

With a rise in under-18 crime, the government is introducing a raft of measures directed mostly at coll ges (lower secondaries). The school year started with leaflet and poster campaigns against racketeering and bullying and an emergency hotline for victims or witnesses of violence.

While overall crime decreased slightly last year, the number of under-18s prosecuted rose by more than seven per cent, accounting for almost a fifth of the national total. Violence now accounts for 24 per cent of youth crime, compared to 11 per cent in 1974. Last year 3,495 under-18s were given custodial sentences, 50 per cent more than in 1993.

A survey of 6,000 secondary schools in 1997 found that 67 per cent of coll ges were concerned about verbal abuse by pupils, compared with 60 per cent the year before, along with 59 per cent of vocational lycees and 43 per cent of general lycees.

Teachers report underlying violence which includes racketeering, extortion and impertinence.

At least four official plans against school violence have been introduced in the past six years. The most recent reinforced links between the education, law and police authorities and set up 10 experimental action zones in six education authorities, mostly in deprived suburbs of major cities.

It involves co-operation between schools, magistrates, police and social and youth services. "Sensitive" schools are allocated extra counsellors, social workers and medical support, reflecting French belief that such problems are often due to social causes rooted in poverty, unemployment or broken families. Classroom assistants appointed under the youth employment scheme monitor potential flashpoints such as corridors and canteens.

Initiatives also include an increase in the number of separate classes with specialised teachers for particularly disruptive pupils from 60 to 100 during this school year, to 250 next year.

Civics - citizenship - will stress respect and solidarity and will become a compulsory subject in the examination taken by pupils leaving coll ge.

This summer, the ministers of education, justice, the interior, employment and towns agreed a programme against juvenile delinquency. Measures include increased parental responsibility, protective provisions for children at risk and sanctions applicable to young offenders.

and swifter passage through the courts.

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