In the early 2000’s, the image of the ‘vandal youth’ was seen as a symbol of the social problems confronting modern Britain. New Labour’s implementation of the oh-so-controversial ASBO, introduced in the Crime and Disorder Act of 1998, which covered such a range of minor offenses that anything beyond a particularly aggressively sneeze might disrupted the peace enough to warrant arrest. The youths who were bored, annoyed, or merely troublesome were quashed with surveillance cameras, graffiti boards, and in one instance, some well placed blackberry bushes. It would be naive of me to ignore that some in our society are certainly criminal, and that intervention of the justice system is often required. The prosecution of deviant youth who are painted with the same ‘criminal’ brush, is a huge problem.
In one notable case, the ASBO was used to stop children playing football, a largely inoffensive act which was still brandished under the same guise as actual criminal misdemeanors. The ASBO punished the bored youth in the most ridiculous ways, without giving them any other outlets. It punished suicidal women for going near bridges. It flew in the face of common sense. It criminalised the vulnerable and isolated. And yet, it appears that our new government has not learnt the valuable lessons that could have been taken from the ASBO and it’s approach to vandals, instead approaching contemporary adaptations of vandalism with the same punitive force.
A more modern problem surrounding young deviants is the increased number of young hackers, known affectionately as ‘script kiddies’, who are rising to the technological challenge. Instead of painting tags on the sides of buildings, the tag is left in a message to a company that they’ve been hacked. Imaginative, yet slightly sinister, names such as ‘Comrade’ hide their real identities, alongside use of Tor software and more widely accessible anonymous proxy browsers. For the modern day hacker, anonymity online is easier than donning a black hoodie and setting to work with the spray paint. However, for many deviant youths, both vandalism and hacking have the same causes and motives. Both activities show talent, whether you wish to acknowledge it or not. They both are forms of self expression, often extending to making political statements, as may be seen in the exaggerated examples of artists like Banksy or hacking groups such as Anonymous. At a grassroots level, the motives are the same. It is clear that whether spraying profanities on a chip shop window or taking down a small business website, both acts have financial costs. Both acts are criminal.
Why is it that this more modern vandalism is approached in a similar way to graffiti artists of the past? The unbridled curiosity of these hackers should’ve been stopped before they start taking down small businesses, or venturing deep into the Dark Web and browsing, waiting for inevitable trouble to ensue. Dealing with this new issue is not the remit of the Justice system, but Education. Currently, instead of channeling such technological talent, the Justice system is waiting for them to emerge at the other end – as prepacked, ready to prosecute, deviants. It is clear that the government do pick up some of the brightest hackers and channel their energies into the more ethical pursuits; intelligence, counter-terrorism and security. Yet this often misses the minor deviants. Those who fumble their way around the internet- arguably causing more damage with their lack of knowledge. As was found with the graffiti artists, mass labeling these people as deviants and pushing for punitive measures had adverse effects- there is a growing need for the hacking generation not to be prosecuted, but educated. Teach children to code, hack, and programme. These skills, neglected in schools are vital for careers and advancement of people heading into the growing technological sector. Schools must take on the responsibility of teaching such language to students – such skills are arguably equally as important as learning to speak French or Spanish. It opens a gateway into another world. Coding is slowly making its way onto many secondary schools curriculums, but not at the speed required. The ability to work computers, to understand them and to exploit their power, is something that should be built upon from foundations which should be laid as early as primary school level. In the same way as the principles of a language are learnt at a young age, so should the basics of computer coding. Children must become aware of the potential and opportunities that come from becoming computer savvy .
As was seen in the approach to vandals of the past, avoiding and shunning curious youths isolates a whole generation and criminalises creativity and innovation. It is clear that naive youth, when armed with the internet at their disposal, will cause more damage than paint on a chip shop window.