Suzanne and Society

14 08 2011

Category; Criminal Law, Politics

© Getty

Someone I’ll call Suzanne was on my mind recently, while society watched, horrified, as the certainty of order disappeared.

Throughout Britain, smiling as they smashed in shops to take what they felt like or simply burn the place down, I saw lots of Suzannes.

I first met Suzanne because she’d been charged with theft. The childrens’ home she lived in, or rather was based in, had called the police after she had demanded a pound for an ice-cream and, when they had refused because of some rule infraction, she had gone and taken the pound anyway. They called the police because she took a pound. And the police came. And they arrested her. And the CPS charged her. And she was sent to court. Because she stole a pound for an ice-cream.

She was fifteen and faced a slew of charges relating to similar petty offences; stealing things, breaking things, hitting and spitting at the police arresting her, that sort of thing. School was a distant memory, she’d disappear for days at a time. Older men had put her on the game. Her mother, who had been unable to cope with her, came to every hearing.

Suzanne taught me how profoundly society was failing her generation. Agencies and systems processed her with none really taking any responsibility. Social services became an adjunct to school, police to both and the courts to society. It wasn’t a lack of money; it was a lack of will and fixed purpose. The welfare of this girl, and, through that the welfare of society. That was the fixed purpose we should have all focused on, but targets, rights, careers and getting through the day got in the way of that.

She didn’t care when the police were called when she had a tantrum or stole a pound. It got her attention; isn’t that what tantrums are for? She didn’t care about going to court, where she met up with friends and was the centre of attention, she didn’t care about custody. She didn’t care about anything much.

If she’d thought about it she’d probably have taken delight in the thousands and thousands of pounds society spent on her misbehaviour, on getting her assessed, accommodated, arrested and tried. Agencies hobbled by targets and procedures, a confrontational legal system where rights and requirements trumped the best interests of a girl. A girl processed by the systems that society provides rather than concentrating on what she needed. And the hundreds of thousands like her.

A system that wasn’t working for her, for all the individuals whose jobs brought them into contact with her, or society in general.

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