I am pleased to have recently been appointed the new Shadow Minister for Justice with responsibility for victims and for youth justice.
I know from talking to victims of crime locally just how traumatic their experiences can be and I will work hard to ensure that the criminal justice system takes account of their needs. The youth justice brief provides an opportunity to think about how – as a society – we can put those young people who’ve taken the wrong road in life, back on the right track. In fact, ensuring that our young people have the best future possible has always been one of my top priorities and so I hope to make a real difference in this important area.
For me, one of the best parts of being an MP is the opportunity to meet with young people and listen to them talk about their aspirations for the future. We have some outstanding young talent in Barnsley and I want to ensure that they are all able to reach their full potential.
There is no doubt that this is a tough time to be growing up. In Barnsley, youth unemployment is 80% higher than the national average and the cost of living makes starting out in life even more challenging. There is real concern about making sure that our young people get access to the right training, apprenticeship and academic opportunities.
All this, combined with other social factors, means that, inevitably, there will be some young people who take the wrong turn and fall short; it has always been that way. However, my time in the Army has shown me that young people can turn their lives around, even after making bad decisions. I have seen firsthand that young men and women, often with troubled pasts, can show real courage, professionalism and dedication when called upon to serve our country.
I believe that the youth justice system needs to ensure that, whilst punishment is appropriate and constructive, it does not exclude the potential for change. We must not give up hope on the next generation.
To help bring about this change, we have a responsibility, firstly to deliver strong, safe and sustainable communities, but also to educate young offenders about the impact of their crimes on victims and on their local communities. Community is what binds us together here in Barnsley and we must ensure that young people take responsibility for keeping it alive for their children too.
This article was first published in the Barnsley Chronicle on 13th September 2013.