I learned yesterday of a 11-year old boy that was given an 18-month rehabilitation order for his behaviour during the riots in London last month. The kid stole a bin worth £50 from the Debenhams in Romford (see picture from The Guardian), just five months after receiving a referral order for arson, carrying a pointed instrument and criminal damage.
This is not an anecdotal case. It actually responds to PM Cameron’s demand for a harsh judicial response to the rioters, who are deemed to constitute a ‘sick’ part of society. As Naomi Wolf notes in a recent article in Project Syndicate, Cameron’s statements remind us of Charles Dickens’ England, where
the judiciary was not independent, and newspapers were subject to state censorship. Kids (like Oliver Twist) were punished in ways designed to break them; poor people convicted of relatively minor offenses were transported to Australia, or given publicly humiliating forms of punishment; police had unchecked and violent power over the poor.
The official response to the riots in the UK neglects any links between social conditions and criminality. Instead, control measures and punitive regulatory regimes are imposed. There is an increasing amount or research conducted around social control policies. See, for instance, ‘Governing poverty: risking rights?’ dialogue in Open Democracy. However, a considerable gap exists between those engaged in research and theory and those engaged in human rights advocacy and policy. In 2010, the ICHRP issued the insightful report Modes and Patterns of Social Control: Implications for Human Rights Policy. Understanding and tackling the connections between neoliberal economic policy, punitive criminality and the crisis of welfare state must be a priority for human rights advocates.