Hamilton doesn't need a heavy handed law

17th October 1997 at 01:00
The police appear to be becoming more authoritarian by the day. We have seen the launch and then withdrawal of the CS gas-spraying initiative in areas like Easterhouse. Then a curfew was proposed for children in Hamilton who are out after dark. Neither of these initiatives would be suggested for communities like Bearsden where residents belonging to the legal fraternity would have seen the police off. Unfortunately, ordinary decent working families in places like Easterhouse, Whitehill, Fairhill and Burnbank don't have such clout, so the police can test their social experiments on them.

By being stigmatised the plight of such communities is made worse. The police are also storing up resentment among children and young people. The good work they do is often undermined by this sort of sensational approach. How can the police presume to know that it is always better to return children home who are wandering the streets? It might be that for some the streets are safer than the homes they are to be taken back to. For many years the police returned runaways to a children's home in Wales only to discover that the children had been continually sexually abused by the staff.

Like any other resident of Hamilton I do not want young people annoying my peace, vandalising my property or harassing people. But I also realise there are no quick solutions to such behaviour. Within the Hamilton area there has been a significant youth and children's work presence over many years. Initiatives also assist and support parents who need help. The Beat in Udston works with groups of children to provide a range of social activities and educational programmes. There is a sports and play barn for children and adults. Local libraries are nowadays much more welcoming to children.

The Network Youth Project works with children on the streets and between them they develop group work programmes that have been highly successful in helping young people find work, enter further education or become volunteer youth workers in their own community. The project also runs an amazing holiday programme called Campus which takes young people to Aberdeen for a confidence-building holiday that is also fun. Last year a mock event was held at Hamilton sheriff court attended by the sheriff and all the court staff in their own time. It proved an innovative way to explore crime and the law.

The information shop in Fairhill works with hundreds of young people to help improve their life chances by giving them access to information and support which allow them to do things they would never have dreamt of. Finally there is the Jumpstart programme for those with least opportunity to get into the labour market. It has found work for many thought unemployable and has also provided health education workshops on alcohol, drugs and Aids.

All these community projects are constantly under threat from funding cuts. Working on shoestring budgets, they spend too much energy on fund raising and securing their future finances.

It costs Pounds 27,000 a year to keep someone in prison and not much less for residential child care. There are more than 6,000 prisoners in Scotland, mainly from a small number of communities, perhaps 20. We should be concentrating on finding solutions to the problems that lead to so many prisoners from these few areas. If even a tenth of the cost of each prisoner was spent on more creative work with young people and their families it would be a far better use of public money than a police curfew.

It is perhaps ironic to report my experience in running a drugs workshop in a Hamilton community. Only one of the group turned up. The rest were allegedly off joy riding. The one who did come complained bitterly that the building they meet in has had no heating for a year and that it is colder than on the street. The mini-bus has been withdrawn and there is almost no money to run anything. How do we combat the excitement of joy riding with such a poorly funded youth project?

The reorganisation of local government has spelt disaster for youth and children's work in Glasgow, South Lanarkshire and most other councils. Politicians need to realise that investing in youth and children's work is a much more effective way of keeping young people off the streets than curfews will ever be.

Max Cruickshank is a youth work consultant and trainer.

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