Britain’s young offenders
Murders involving teenagers are in the news repeatedly these days. British youth behaviour must be among the worst in Europe. Teenage pregnancies are at an unprecedented level. Binge drinking spawns immorality and criminality, and youngsters now boast about their drug habit. Yet there is pressure to lift the age of criminality from 10 to 14. Some psychologists say that children under 14 don’t know the difference between right and wrong.
Others, however, beg to differ. They insist that ten-year-olds Jon Venables and Robert Thomson knew it was wrong to murder James Bulger aged two, and that Mary Bell at eleven culpably killed two small boys (she was convicted of manslaughter). Were not Damilola Taylor’s killers – the 12-and 13-year-old Preddie brothers – culpably guilty?
Parental preoccupation with wealth and pleasure often leaves children without loving and caring discipline. As 50% of marriages – and even more unmarried ‘partnerships’ – fail, millions of our youth are left with one or no parent caring for them. Many single parents must work, depriving their children of valuable bonding time.
When most adult role-models ignore or ridicule the Bible, what will untaught youngsters do? They scorn the gospel and the Saviour who alone can really make life different for them. Meanwhile our land reaps what we sow.
The current age of criminality is 10 years. ‘Juveniles’ of 15-17 years can be imprisoned. ‘Young offenders’ aged between 18-20 years can be detained in Young Offender Institutions (YOIs) and their sentences can continue in adult prisons.
The website www.hmprisonservice.gov.uk lists three remand centres for under 21s and twenty YOIs. Occasionally juveniles have to stay at YOIs intended for older youngsters, and some adult prisons contain YOI sections.
The Government rightly wants young offenders to become reformed and law-abiding citizens – to help youths to avoid crime would benefit everyone, especially them! But, sadly, mixing new offenders with hardened inmates can promote an appetite for crime.
Two years after a naïve boy arrived at a YOI that I visit, he had become streetwise and indifferent. YOIs can lead on to ‘graduation’ through adult prisons, despite dedicated efforts by prison chaplains, prison staff and visitors.
Like adult prisoners, such youngsters need to be changed from within. But how can this come about? YOI custody may be their last chance to break free from a sad downward spiral of crime, but only by coming to know Christ can a change of heart be experienced.
Why do so many young offenders attend Christian services and meetings? Partly, because prison chaplaincies offer friendship and guidance. Others come to learn about Christianity. Some seek to escape prison routine and cell confinement. Some come to meet friends, or ‘have a laugh’.
YOI meetings are potentially more unruly and unpredictable than adult equivalents. Yet our DAYLIGHT speakers report polite and keen attention to the gospel from nearly all YOI chapel attendees. Youngsters of Afro-Caribbean origin often understand Christianity better than white Caucasian youths, who are largely ignorant of the Bible.
The gospel of the crucified and risen Saviour, who pardons all who turn from their sin and trust in him, has its own gripping power! And who knows what part is played by our faithful prayer supporters?
One Christmas a YOI gave all its inmates free DAYLIGHT CDs on John’s Gospel. All YOIs receive DayOne’s Scripture diaries and some take booklets donated by DAYLIGHT.
Only Jesus Christ can change these needy young folks. Only his blood can cleanse from sin and only the Holy Spirit can turn a young criminal into a ‘new creation’. Only our Father God can help many who have never known the love of a good and caring father.
We love to tell them of a heavenly Father who runs to accept returning sinners as they take the first faltering steps in repentance and faith towards him!
Jimmy’s offence hit media headlines but he heard about Jesus at YOI services and meetings. He asked me for a pastoral visit through the chaplaincy, and for a book to help him understand the Bible. We discussed how Christ alone could save and change him.
He wrote soon after: ‘Thank you for The Bible Panorama … You’ll be pleased to know that I now read the Bible every day and I kept my promise to read those booklets you handed out.
‘My journey has definitely reached an interesting, if not remarkable, point. I have found myself not only trying to learn more every day, but also preaching to others who take an interest. I find myself able to quote passages from the Bible and answer a lot of questions.
‘When people ask me, do I have any faith, I’m able to stand proud and say “Yes, I am a Christian”. When I am asked, do I believe there’s a God, I say with no stutter, “Yes”. Many have asked me why I have put my faith in God and they seem shocked when I say that it has been a life changing experience’.
In a society which has starved young folk of Christian influence and fed them spiritual and moral junk food, how vital it is for Christians to pray for all involved in making Christ known – in prisons too.
More details from www.DaylightCPT.org or [email protected].