Thursday, 31 March 2011

What Do We Do With Billy?

The 'Billy' in question stars in a recent post by Inspector Gadjet. Although he lives on the Swamp Estate in Ruraltown, I certainly recognise him and so I suspect do most probation officers. We're not told how old he is, but he still seems to live at home with his mum and he is the father of a daughter. I'm sure he turned up recently in episode 7 of the BBC three fly-on-the-wall documentary series 'The Lock Up' filmed at Hull custody suite. He was the small irritating young guy going on about 'needing to get out to see his bairn'.

'Billy' has 100 previous convictions and has just been arrested on suspicion of nicking a minibus FFS. I don't know about you, but I put that kind of offence in the juvenile pain-in-the-backside sort of category. What on earth might the motive be? Perhaps he wanted to spare his legs walking home? He was no doubt bored and it was opportunistic. He's obviously not very sophisticated because DNA left at the scene eventually took the police to his mothers door. He cooperated fully and we are told even volunteered the location of the DVD player taken from the dashboard.

According to Inspector Gadjet's thesis 'Billy' should be locked up for very long periods of time basically for being a pain-in-the-backside. I have a degree of sympathy because I'm sure it was 'Billy' who had a go at breaking into my car last year. First he smashed a window to try and get the door open, then left a spot of blood behind whilst trying to bend the top of the door and get his hand inside. He eventually discovered that my make of car has dead-locked doors and even if he had got in, being a SAAB the gear stick is locked into reverse. All very inept, annoying and ultimately pointless. Hopefully his eventual arrest will serve to remind him that he's not a very successful car thief and he either needs to get better or pack it in.

Of course 'Billy'  is the product of his environment. He grew up in a community probably suffering second and third generation unemployment as all the unskilled jobs went ages ago. He will have failed at school and was probably excluded at about age 13, whereupon he started smoking and drinking cheap alcohol in earnest on the streets with all his similarly-excluded mates. Any youth provision will have closed ages ago and his drift into regular irritating crime and anti-social behaviour will have started. His offending history may well have been enhanced by being made subject of an ASBO and possibly even by elevation to PPO status where he would have been the beneficiary of a 'premium service'  that ensured even quicker arrest.
Thankfully this 'Billy' doesn't seem to have got onto heroin.

So, what are we to do with 'Billy'? Well fortunately evidence and experience shows that he will eventually grow out of it. Even he will finally discover that his behaviour is a pain-in-the-backside and the inevitable girlfriend will certainly remind him at regular intervals. Indeed in all likelihood it will be her who eventually succeeds in providing 'Billy' with the structure, supervision and boundaries that his life has needed all along. Hopefully she will re-inforce all the positive work that the YOT and probation service will be trying to undertake with 'Billy'. Of course what would be best of all is that this young man grew up in a society where all this could have been avoided in the first place. But that's a wee bit radical isn't it? 


  1. Jim , that's not good enough I'm afraid. These sort of offences and offenders are not 'annoying'. They hurt real victims , even if only financially.

    I'm sure Billy will grow out of it , but we need to protect society until he does. If we simply keep giving billy meaningless ineffective non custodial sentences , the victims of crime will simply sort it out themselves , like they do in say Belfast. A reason to have a meaningful justice system is to prevent vigilantism and the law of the street.

    And your final bit about creating a better world where people do not become criminals , I passionately agree. But the criminal justice system was set up to deal with the realities of the world and not be a vessel for idealism.

    Billy needs a decent custodial given his previous. Whilst inside he needs to be bombarded with all manner of courses and training so that hopefully , in the controlled and structured environment of prison, he come out a better more useful person. Who knows , it will be his choice.

    Oh , and as a tax payer , I will be happy to pay for his custody and I believe that the savings made in his incarceration ( NO crimes committed , no police , courts , legal aid ect) would far out weigh the price tag. hell it might even be better for Billy as his previous indicates that he cannot rehabilitate in teh community..

  2. It's not good enough from both of you. One does't acknowledge the victim and the other doesn't acknowledge that prison doesn't work. There is another way and its called intensive supervision where police and probation and magistrates all work together to bombard the immature prolific offender.Bugging them with a carrot and stick approach from these three community aware services works instead of all this slanting each other off Get a grip you lot and start respecting each others work.

  3. Wasn't knocking Jim's profession at all. It's an important and difficult job.

    I also have no doubt that intensive supervision has it's merits too.

    I know that we need a wide spectrum of sentences for a wide spectrum of offenders and crimes. All that I am suggesting is that prison is more appropriate as a sentence for a higher proportion of those that are currently jailed.

    Oh and, prison does work.

  4. For dishonestly appropriating and wantonly destroying property, he DESERVES punishment, up to and including a substantial period in prison.

    Will he benefit from going to prison? Probably not. We will, of course, for he won't be committing offences against us.

    However you are missing the most important point, which was Gadget's point. What will the PROSPECT of prison do?

    One of the major problems with criminal culture is that obeying the law makes you a mug. Chimp-derived creatures that we are, one should never underestimate the importance of the viceral emotions. If nothing happens to you when you break the law, then, if you don't simply take what you want, you are a mug. And the human animal really, really hates to be a mug.

    The point, for Billy. of a long prison sentence is not to reform the prisoner, nor, though he deserves it, is it to punish him. It is to make sure that the lawbreaker is the mug. Because at the moment, he is right. He isn't a mug, we are.

    For someone who is considering going straight, whose better nature tells them to go straight, who most of the day WANTS to go straight, the prospect of prison is an aid and a help to that goal, not a threat.

    So for Billy: Sending him to prison all of a sudden when he doesn't expect it, may seem unfair to the over-sympathetic.

    But if he had been on notice that crime equals prison, then he probably wouldn't have sunk to these depths in the first place.

  5. Thanks for the contributions guys. I've been out for the evening and was mulling over what I'd written. I think it's fair to say I did 'cop out' by not saying more than that Billy would simply grow out of his offending. Writing this stuff is not easy you know and occasionally I lose the thread!

    The trouble is we're never in possession of all the facts. Billy may well be a PPO and possibly getting/has had intensive supervision. He may well have had one or more custodials before, but lets get real here, you don't do a lot if any 'time' for nicking a minibus however much previous you've got. Surely no one is saying he should? We don't know how long it's been since his last conviction? We don't know how serious his offending has been, apart from a figure of 100. But how many court appearances? How many disposals? How many TIC's? What we don't know just goes on and on.

    What I do know is that the Billy's of this world have been around for my entire career and there's no simple answer. I guess in essence that was what I was trying to say, and I speak as a victim just as many of us I suspect.

    I appreciate you adding to the debate.


  6. "Surely no one is saying he should?"

    Surely many people are saying exactly that. A minibus represents well over a man-year of labour (ableit it was recovered). The time spent sorting it out is also collossal.

    Why shouldn't he spend six months in prison? He'll get a reasonable idea from that what he is doing to other people.

    And of course the point is, if he expected to spend six months in prison, **he wouldn't nick it**.

    He takes things because he knows the consequences for him will be trivial, especially since he has nothing better to do with his time than spend it with the criminal justice system.

    It's not like we would see a year in prison for every minibus nicked today, because fewer would be nicked.

  7. Doing nothing doesn't work. Even if 'Billy' grows out if it it is going to take a long time during which many people will be incolvenienced and there is a significant risk that rather than growing out of it, 'Billy' will mature into a hardened criminal.

    Locking him up doesn't work. It keeps Billy off the streets for a bit which I am sure makes some people happy but it also significantly increases the chance that he will mature into a hardened criminal.

    There must be an alternative. They must be a way to impose non-custodial sentences that actually meaningful and act as a real deterence to re-offending, The problem is that it seems that non-custodial sentenses are seen as the cheap option. There main object seems to be to deal with the matter as cheaply as possible, with being an effective punishment comming a distant second. To make this type of penalty work, rea,l money needs to be spent. Probably still a lot less than it would cost to lock someone up, but substantial. Unfortunately I cannot see that happening in the current economic climate.

  8. As I say, Billy may well have already done a period in custody - we're not told - with 100 previous convictions it would be most unlikely that he hadn't. It hasn't worked and almost invariably doesn't work with the likes of Billy.

    If only it was as simple as cause and effect - the notion that Billy wouldn't nick the minibus because he would think 'better not do that because I'll go to prison'. You just don't seem to know Billy guys.

    Firstly Billy is incapable of thinking rationally like that - he is impulsive in virtually all he does - just doesn't 'think' - in fact just like a child.

    Secondly Billy has no concept that he might get caught. Yes you and I know he invariably will, but it takes years for the penny to drop with Billy - just like a child - believe me.

    Billy has not matured - he has not had any boundaries. Custody only gives short term relief and makes matters worse. He'll meet loads of more criminally sophisticated offenders who will delight in 'wising him up'.

    If I'm really honest there is very little society can do because the damage has been done already. Of course we'll do our best with supervision and unpaid work etc, but getting Billy to comply will be difficult because guess what, we're dealing with a child-like personality here.

    Now, if I was asked what could society do, the answer would be along the lines of very outdated concepts like Intermediate Treatment. Billy needs to be taken out of his home environment for a period and shown there is a another fantastic world out there where excitement can be gained in other ways than being a pain-in-the-backside and nicking minibuses. He can be shown how to take responsibility. He can learn new skills. He can basically mature and grow up - do all the things that are part of a 'normal' persons developmental stage.

    But sadly this got scuppered when labelled as 'treats for naughty kids'. The Daily Mail view of social policy won the day and look where it's got us.