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Some support for short jail terms for school bullies

Published: 7:44AM Thursday May 12, 2011 Source: ONE News

The public has responded strongly to a suggestion that recidivist violent school bullies serve a short time in prison to change their ways.

The idea, by the president of the Secondary School Principals' Association, was made this morning on Breakfast.

Association president Patrick Walsh said something needed to be done with bullying in New Zealand secondary school yards getting worse, and increasing by 23% over the past seven years.

He said repeat, violent bullies in secondary schools should be given prison terms.

"In other jurisdictions they take these students and they give them a week or two in prison under a controlled environment and it sends a signal to them if you continue to behave this way this might be where you'll end up."

Walsh said evidence from places like the the United States suggests that most students who have the experience of going to prison are quite shocked and it has a long lasting impact on changing their behaviour.

The suggestion has drawn a lot of feedback on the ONE News Facebook page and on the messageboard.

Many on Facebook agreed with the idea, arguing schoolyard bullies should be treated like anyone else who commits assault in the community.

Claire Robertson wrote: "Yes, it's assault. If it was in town on a Friday night, they would go to jail. With or without alcohol, it's still assault."

Sharnie Hill took a similar line. "It is assault! You can not lay a finger on another person - end of! If not prison - boot camp or something similar on an island somewhere and make them have councelling (*sic) of some sorts - they obviously have issues!"
Peter Turner said most of the bullies are going to end up in prison anyway. "Why not give them a look? Mind you I think positive help like counseling might be a better direction?"

Walsh told Breakfast he doesn't think schools have lost control of the issue but violence is increasing.

"All schools work very hard with students who commit violent anti-social behaviour. Unfortunately the degree of that violence amongst a small minority has increased over time. It's also involving more girls and that's a grave concern to boards of trustees and principals," he said.

Walsh said some students have been beaten so badly that they've required hospital treatment, some have lost consciousness when they've been assaulted and some have been left with long-lasting emotional and physical damage.

He said schools do everything in their power to prevent such incidents.

"All schools have comprehensive bullying policies in place. They work with both the victim and the offender, offer counselling, anger management and they try every measure to get them to reform their behaviour. Unfortunately there's a small minority of students who are resistant to it."

He said the principals' association advocates there should to be some "sharp shocks" to these students who are not reforming their behaviour.

He accepted that prison can lead to a downward spiral of a life of crime, stressed it's a small minority of students who are repeat, violent bullies. He said those ones often think they can act with impunity.

"Even when the principals refer them to the police they're dealt with under the Children, Young Persons and their Families Act and the worse they can receive is a family group conference, anger management, curfew. And unfortunately that's not a sufficient disincentive for them to stop their violent behaviour."

He also said principals are often told by Ministry of Education and Justice Department that if such a student is excluded from the school they're on a path of a spiral to crime, and their best chance of rehabilitation is to remain at the school.

"Our response to that, as principals, is we have to have concern for the hundreds of other students in the school, notwithstanding the damage that might be done to that individual student."

Walsh said principals would not advocate a return to corporal punishment.

"We don't think using violence to change violent behaviour is a useful strategy," he said.

Online feedback

Anthony Brathwaite was another who wrote, agreeing with prison. "Yes. If they are in prison at such a young age, they'll most likely get bullied themselves, helping them realise why they should not do it to others.
"As for the length of their term, a month or two would be enough to teach them not to bully others. If they continue offending after they are released, throw them back in, giving them the same length sentance an adult would receive for such behavior."
Carrie Stringer knew of a case of bullying.  "In the news paper in Nelson the other day they wrote about 2 teens kidnapping a fellow student and beating him badly leaving him knocked out. He had to go to hospital and the 2 who hurt him got taken away by police. The school is in shock."
But Graham O'Brien thought teachers should do more about bullying. "Get teachers and school staff to be more viirlant and do something besides drawing a wage..."

Braden Scott was among those against sending bullies to prison, fearing it could make them worse.

"No because prison has a way of turning young offenders into proper criminals. I agree some serious action is needed but putting kids in jail isn't the answer. The issue is things like PD don't work either. Also remember that not all of these kids are going to be criminals because bullying is wide spread across all social groups. It has to be at a cultural level, we as adults need to set the example. Punishments need to be there but remember these are kids and they are themselves vunerable jail is the worst place for them." 
Peter Turner said perservering with counselling works. "I wouldn't give up on it. Between my partner and I it took us 3 or 4 councilors before we found one that worked for us. And IT DID work!! I believe, communication is the only way to fix these things and the earlier, the better. Just my opinion." 

The messageboard also prompted mixed reaction.

Shelly_bee said: "I totally agree with the bullies within our schools going to prison, however not until the '3 strikes' system has been committed. I believe some of our youth today just don't care because they seemingly believe that they're either going to get stood down from school, which no doubt the youth that fall into such catagories of bullying want that to happen anyway, or they think it's 'cool' to be a bully. Yes, I definately think 'prison' for such youth is the answer!"

But rodtreaders said: "I don't feel a short time in goal is the answer, expose them to the public wearing a vest reading 'bullie' and do meaningfull work in a public place. The justice system is too weak in giving sentances, give them the maximum and put them through compulsory courses that could improve their attitude."

* Spelling errors all as written in feedback messages

What do you think? Have your say on the messageboard below.

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  • hekecat said on 2011-05-12 @ 22:41 NZDT: Report abusive post

    bullying is not just physical mental bullying is far worse there is no physical evidence no bruises blood etc just absolute fear of facing the day with the bully and most times teachers that most time tell you to harden up I say bully the bully Parents unite get your child a minder at school stoop to their level it works....Im sick of the continuous pussy footing around with all the violence happening in this country and victims are the losers...

  • JaneDudley said on 2011-05-12 @ 11:32 NZDT: Report abusive post

    I think that there should definitely be more laws against bullying, but I think that there should be laws to stop verbal/emotional bullying in schools and workplaces. This can be just as damaging as physical abuse. Bulllying victims can suffer from long lasting problems from this and many suicides have been linked to bullying. Other countries such as the U.K have laws against verbal/emotional bullying, I think that we should too.

  • tt2 said on 2011-05-12 @ 10:41 NZDT: Report abusive post

    It doesnt takje a rocket scientist to work this one out! If kids misbehaved they got the cane or the strap and then they behaved. Now we have no cane & no discipline so we drug our kids or send them to jail to stop them from misbehaving! Thats smart!!???

  • thekiwi said on 2011-05-12 @ 10:39 NZDT: Report abusive post

    I am 60. when i went to school we had bullies but it wasn't on the scale it is now but then my mum and dad where allowed to give me a whack on the butt if i did wrong the schools where allowed to give me a caning if I was playing up. I got the cane a couple of times and I deserved it as well. Now Parents can't smack there kids no wonder they have no discipline any more and are out of control.

  • rodtreaders said on 2011-05-12 @ 10:12 NZDT: Report abusive post

    I don't feel a short time in goal is the answer, expose them to the public wearing a vest reading 'bullie' and do meaningfull work in a public place. The justice system is too weak in giving sentances, give them the maximum and put them through compolusulry courses that could improve their attitude.