Therapy and delinquency


IN the wake of Kathryn Holmquist's series "The Roots of Crime" on these pages last week, and amid the heated debate now raging in the aftermath of recent murders, it's important to make two points: crime is not a black and white issue - there is no simple solution. Secondly prison - which is utilised late in the life cycle of deviant and criminal behaviour - clearly does not deter.

Research indicates that the troubled juvenile of today is statistically likely to be the violent adult of tomorrow. Early well funded, resourced, therapeutic, interventionist programmes aimed at children designated as at risk will have a much higher chance of ultimately reducing the crime rate. A percentage may offend again - but far less than is the current situation.

We have had workhouses, charter schools, industrial schools and reform schools. We have tried prison and reaped the lawless whirlwind of the graduates of crime school. At present there are no full scale therapeutic residential communities for adolescents in Ireland - why?

I have over the past few years assessed placements of applied social studies students in various social care centres around Ireland, such as detention units, special schools, probation offices, residential homes for children, day centres for the victims of sexual abuse, as well as day and residential centres for drug abusers.

The labelled children - "fractured personalities", "broken children", "regressed personality types", "archipelago children", "frozen children", "juvenile delinquents", "youth criminals" and so on - invariably have in common the complete absence of effective parenting and parenting skills that most of us take for granted; stability, consistency, responsibility, mutuality and reciprocity. They typically experience poverty - but I would extend this concept to poverty of conscience and of moral development. This instills in these children a distrust, dislike and rejection of a mainstream culture.

What I would call "a cultivation of reversed morality" ensues and that enables them to commit repeatedly the callous and horrific crimes we witness with alarming regularity.

I believe the causes of juvenile delinquency lie both in the physiological and environmental domain. On the latter there has been a fundamental shift in Irish societal attitudes away from notions of humanism towards a reverence of consumerism. It appears inconceivable that there could exist a body of opinion which states there is no direct link between long term unemployment, poverty, built up housing areas and crime.

Listen to the inner city social workers and care workers on this point. Psychologists and social care workers - use the terms "in denial" and transferance to explain reasons why juvenile delinquents might reject a propertied and monied mainstream culture with its value laden system and instead transfer their gown aggression, turmoil, isolation, angst, anger and fury onto the "ordinary decent person".

Early intervention techniques that are family based and perceive the multiplicity of diverse problems in the socio economic moral backgrounds of these juvenile offenders must receive adequate support from the various government departments concerned. A problem here of course is that too many departments are involved.

The way forward may be through utilising a therapeutic process that "waits upon" the troubled offender, an area that I am researching in depth. Art therapy, drama therapy, psycho drama, music therapy, play therapy and outdoor recreational therapy could be mobilised by the Departments in their fight against crime.

This may seem out of touch with certain current theories - professional and lay - but it could and should be investigated further. While brutalised adult criminals already embarked on a life of brutalising others would obviously be hard to treat, in such contexts great benefit could be reaped by applying the therapeutic approach to juveniles

"Therapeutic" embraces any actions or processes which are healing in intent or nature having defined goals and objectives. In the non medical context it should encapsulate a psycho dynamic process. A therapeutic community should be flexible, creative, innovative, sincere and loving in its approach - and prepared to challenge clients when necessary.

This way we may avoid the horrific crimes that these out of control people commit later, when it has become their way of life.

Therapy should be given a try. Nothing else so far has worked and it makes economic sense in the long run. Are any politicians brave enough to take up this challenge?