Editorial: After punishment, what next?

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The fate of the two Ottos Comprehensive School students who were involved in the stabbing of a classmate in mid-January was made known to the public recently. The Ministry of Education made the decision to expel the students based on additional information that came to light during the investigation of the incident.
The director of education, Clare Browne, said that the decision was made in order to ensure the safety of the remaining student population, stating, “I have done what I think I should do. You come and stab somebody in a school six times, then you have written your own expulsion note.” It is hard to argue against that statement.
The director made the Ministry’s stance pellucid for everyone when he declared, “We have a zero tolerance on violence. Schools must be safe places. If you send your daughter or son to school then you must feel safe. When your telephone rings you must not think that somebody is calling you to tell you that your child was injured by somebody bringing a knife into school. Once you bring a knife into school, your intentions cannot be noble.” Again, it is hard to argue against that statement, especially if you are a parent.
We have no issues with the action taken (based on the information presented and known to us), but this recent disciplinary action is really just the tip of the iceberg. It does not solve the problem, and may actually make things worse in the long run. Using this case as an example, the question regarding these two young people is: what happens next?
What is the rehabilitation process for the youth who are expelled because of bad behaviour, especially violent behaviour? Is there a process for providing them with the support that they need to address the issues in their lives, and are they given a path so that they can return to school and go on to lead productive lives?
If we turn away youthful offenders and give them no support and no options, are we not creating a bigger problem for ourselves in the long run? Without some type of support and rehabilitation programme, the likelihood of these young offenders turning to a life of crime, increases tremendously. It does not require any internationally funded, multi-year study to come to that conclusion.
 The offense in this most recent case is disturbing. It is alleged that the incident was the culmination of a longstanding ‘beef’ between two students. Reports indicate that there was an earlier serious incident and that this attack was meant to finish what was started then. The mere fact that this appears to be a premeditated act, with an accomplice, is evidence that there is more here than meets the eye.
The kind of deep emotion that is required to premeditate an act such as the one described, where a child is stabbed multiple times, needs greater investigation. Very likely, the Ministry of Education is not the proper or qualified institution to undertake this type of social work, but someone has to do it; otherwise, there will be no intervention, and the violent behaviour displayed by these youth will likely escalate if unchecked.
Every cloud has a silver lining and maybe we can use this incident to kick-start the development of a comprehensive programme to address misguided and violent behaviour in our schools. Certainly, these violence prone youth should not be allowed to freely mingle in our schools, but at the same time, they should not be cast out without any type of social safety net. If they are, it will be to our society’s ultimate detriment.
When talking of our prison system, the same concepts apply, and we have discussed the pros and cons of punishment versus rehabilitation on more than one occasion. We can apply the arguments to our education system, but we are sure that we will arrive at the same result. There are few cases where punishment trumps rehabilitation. Rehabilitation seeks to stop the cycle of deviant behaviour while punishment generally lasts only as long as it stings. Once time passes and memory fades, the consequences slip into the background of the bad decision-making process.
 All of this takes resources, which we are sadly lacking. But we need to start weighing the pro and cons carefully and look toward the long term. The ultimate cost of pushing youth on a path of crime, because they have been expelled without a safety net, will be more costly than dealing with the situations when they occur in our schools. In the world of economics, this will fall under the heading of a “cost-benefit analysis,” which follows the axiom, “pay now or pay more later.” ­

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