Past tense

Young clients of Haringey youth offending service look back on
their crimes and reflect on their hopes for the future. Anita Pati

Alittle more education may have kept C out of trouble. Perhaps
if Y had known his parents he would have taken a different route.
Being shunted across care homes didn’t help G’s
relations with his family. But young offenders don’t need
excuses. These four young men at Haringey Youth Offending Service
(Hyos), north London, are cocksure, streetwise and know exactly
what they have done. Yet behind each tale is a history of social
disruption, boredom at school, abandoned family ties and time spent
in care homes.

Hyos has roughly 300 live cases with a 10:1 split of boys to
girls. The most common crime it deals with is motoring offences –
about a third of all cases. T, aged 17, has a string of these
behind him but this time he is on a one-year community
rehabilitation order for assaulting a police officer. He visits an
anger management class once a week.

T started offending at 14: “Just joyriding and that. I just had
the urge. Didn’t have any cars so we’d steal them.”
They weren’t interested in expensive cars, he never sold
anything on. “Just rubbish ones, £300 ones. Just to have fun.”
He’d do this “before, after and during school” because he
hated school and got nothing from it.

College has been a different experience, however. He has just
finished an apprenticeship in bricklaying and would like to “get
into the good money, buy a flat, settle down with my girlfriend,
forget about the bad stuff”. He is keen to start afresh and get out
of the local area because “when you’re there, you do what
everyone else does. You don’t think.” He wants to “meet fresh
people that ain’t drug smokers and joyriders and street
robbers with their hoods up and trousers down.”

C, also 17, has been on numerous orders since the age of 14,
mainly for motoring offences but is currently subject to an ISSP
(intensive supervision and surveillance programme) for burglary.
The street robberies were committed with another young person for
money and phones. They picked on other school children to rob in
the daytime.

“We made threats against them, that was what was serious. We
didn’t take much. We were young, 13, 14.” He says it was a
“stupid mistake” and that he did it because he was bored and
didn’t have any money of his own. “It was a stupid thing to
do ’cos I didn’t get nothing out of it and I got

He has been in children’s homes periodically since the age
of 12. “I’d go to a children’s home for three, four
months then I’d go back home to my mum. Then things would
break down again and I’d get kicked out.” He went to four
different secondary schools and left at 15.

Ideally, he’d like a nine-to-five job, “something to keep
me occupied in the daytime”. What does he wish had been different?
“Probably my education,” he says. “I would have fixed that up
around when I started secondary school and got at least a few
GCSEs. But you can’t turn back the clock.”

G, aged 17, is on a 12-month community rehabilitation order and
has been known to the service for four years. His latest offence
was breaking and entering a factory but most have been motoring

He did them “to earn money” while still at school. “I
haven’t been to school properly since I was about 10.
I’ve been in and out of care homes. I just didn’t like
school. It was boring and I didn’t get on in lessons,” he

If anything could have been different in his life, what would it
have been? “My mum not dying,” he says, immediately. “Cos that
annoyed me. And not having contact with my family from a young age.
It was a mutual agreement,” he says, “and I still think the same…
because it’s been so long I don’t bother with it
anymore.” The only contact he has is with his maternal uncle, an
apparent lifeline. “He’s the one I can call about anything.
I’ve got someone I’ve got contact with.” As he
remembers this, his face lights up.

Y, aged 18, has just finished 18 months in youth custody for
false imprisonment and robbery and is on a section 91, one of the
most serious sentences given.

He says he regrets what he did but feels he has served time for
his crime. “No one deserves to be robbed. But no one can force me
to apologise to that victim because I’ve done my time.
I’ve done my time because of me, because I decided to take my
chances. Obviously before it happened, I thought I was going to get
away. That’s the thought of every criminal.”

Y speaks of the racism he encountered while in custody. He
preferred his stay at the notorious Feltham Young Offenders’
Institute to the secure accommodation he was sent to in the north
of England where there were not many other black people.

“There was like one black kid and 15 white kids. It was like,
who am I relating to? And racism did occur. What was so shocking
was that it wasn’t just by the kids but by the staff. A young
person would call me a monkey or put chalk on my face then if I
started hitting them and all the kids jumped on me, they [the
governors] would just stand there and say, “They don’t know
what they’re saying – they’re just confused”.

Y was in care for long periods. As a child refugee from east
Africa, he left his parents at a young age and lived with a
relative who was busy looking after his own children. Would things
have been different if his parents had been here? “Of course,
definitely, without a doubt. But there’s no point in worrying
about it. I was sent to get away from the gunfire, to get an
education, and hopefully support my brothers but it ain’t
happening. I had to look after myself from 14.

Hyos provides a point of contact for these young men. For G, the
sessions are helpful “because they keep me out of trouble,” whereas
for Y, his probation officer is the first person he’s really
got along with.

“This service is good ’cos it makes you focus a bit and
think about what you’re doing,” says C.

T finds that “they talk to you about things that other people
don’t talk to you about. It makes you think a lot more, why
did you do the crime.” He speaks of a favourite worker: “He talks
to you like you’ve got two brains.”

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