Belfast Telegraph

Why I want more prisons to lock up young thugs and their parents

By Sharon Owens

Last July Anthony Wood (21) and Matthew Maw (19) battered and stabbed Louise Evans to death in a park in Burnley.

All three lived in a hostel for “homeless and vulnerable” people and had been drinking on the day of the murder.

Louise had Asperger's syndrome. Anthony Wood boasted to friends that he was going to kill, though in the end it was Matthew Maw who did most of the “dirty work”. The police mug shots of Wood and Maw are enough to give the parents of any young girl nightmares. The two men look like broken souls. Wood was sentenced to 22 years in prison and Maw got 18. That means they'll be free men again in their early 40s. Watch out, Burnley.

In Doncaster two ‘feral’ children aged 11 and 12 lured two other children to a wooded ravine and tortured them until one of the children begged to be allowed to die. The parents of these damaged children were later revealed to be a violent alcoholic drug-taking father who routinely battered his drug-taking, ineffectual partner. She admitted she gave her sons cannabis and cider to “keep them quiet”. The family was said to watch pornographic and gratuitous horror films.

David Cameron says there is something going wrong with society. Like Tony Blair before him, he's making pre-election noises about family values. Well, sorry, but I don't entirely agree. For haven't sickening crimes like these always been with us? Jack the Ripper, anyone?

No, I reckon we need more prisons, more Young Offender units and earlier intervention. Anthony Wood and Matthew Maw should never have been allowed to buy alcohol and roam the streets of Burnley if they were considered ‘vulnerable’. The parents of the “Doncaster torture boys” also belonged behind bars. And possibly in padded cells if they thought it was normal behaviour to give their children drugs and alcohol, and to conduct an extremely violent co-dependent relationship in front of them.

Social Services missed 31 chances to rescue this broken family but because of confidentiality the general public will not be allowed to know what those 31 chances entailed. The Doncaster pair will spend five years in separate secure units at a cost to the taxpayer of £420,000 each per year. They will then be given new identities, police protection and a safe place to live.

I'm not sure how much help the two young victims and their families will get, however.

You see, it's no use ignoring all the warning signs and then making grand speeches about family values whenever an election looms. The neighbours of the Doncaster boys were only too aware that the house with an abandoned car in the front garden was a crime scene waiting to happen.

The boys liked to play by pushing other boys in front of moving cars, slaughtering ducks and setting fire to girls' hair, apparently.

If I were in charge there'd be full employment because anyone looking for a job would be hired straight away to help build and run enormous great prisons. And any man, drunk or sober, found battering his wife would be handed a mandatory sentence of 10 years. And if he did it in front of the children he'd get 20 years. And if that poor woman then hooked up with another wicked abuser, she'd be locked away for five years (for neglect).

Yes, I know that building a prison in every town would be expensive. But my prisons would be different! They'd serve only vegetarian food. Cigarettes would be banned outright. Prisoners would each have a clean, white-painted cell (with loo and shower), and full access to approved library books. Instead of TV they'd have BBC Radio 4. Instead of butch gyms they would learn yoga.

No consideration would be given to religious, political or cultural niceties. Visiting relatives would have to pay their own travel costs. Any prisoner misbehaving would be denied visits, and confined to their cell for a few days or weeks to think things over. The human rights of law-abiding citizens would always take precedence over the rights of prisoners: any prisoner thought likely to re-offend would simply never be released.

Sounds harsh, but does anybody really believe that children brought up like the Doncaster pair are ever going to be well-adjusted human beings?

All the art therapy and one-to-one counselling in the world isn't going to affect a person who thinks it's amusing to torture or murder another person.

Wouldn't it be better to take these broken souls off the streets at the first sign of trouble? Before they actually get around to the torture-and-murder stage?

Belfast Telegraph


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