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Thursday, July 23, 1998 Published at 03:15 GMT 04:15 UK

UK Politics

Young offenders to get days out

Given the boot: Military style punishment out of favour

Home Secretary Jack Straw is to relax the rules governing days out and adventure courses for young offenders - scrapping policies brought in by the Conservatives.

[ image: Safari: Policy supported by some social workers]
Safari: Policy supported by some social workers
Governors at young offender institutions will be given powers to allow teenagers to go on trips if they believe it will help in the offender's rehabilitation prior to release back into society.

But the move, announced in a speech at the annual Prison Reform Trust lecture, is likely to lead to attacks that Labour is giving young offenders a "soft option".

Announcing the changes, Mr Straw said that young prisoners would be allowed to take part in Duke of Edinburgh outward bound award schemes, team sports or even look for work.

[ image: But critics say it is a soft option]
But critics say it is a soft option
If 18-24-year-old offenders are involved in community projects, governors will have the discretion of allowing the prisoner to stay away overnight.

Some prisoners will be permitted to look for a home in the run-up to their release.

Older prisoners will also be allowed out of jail for work experience, Mr Straw said, subject to tough risk assessments.

Safari outrage

The changes come after the former Conservative Home Secretary, Michael Howard, tightened up rules in 1994 and 1995 following a row over "safari" trips for offenders.

One teenage prisoner was sent on a number of overseas holidays, including a safari, costing the taxpayer thousands of pounds.

[ image: Jack Straw:
Jack Straw: "Prisons part of broader picture"
He was later jailed for robbery.

Social workers and probation officers defended the controversial trips, saying this system was better placed to challenge certain teenagers' offending behaviour, rather than just locking them away with older and more criminally-minded offenders.

At the time, Mr Howard threw his weight behind so-called "boot camps", institutions based on military-style discipline.

He said: "Nothing is more likely to erode public confidence in probation work than the suspicion that community sentences are a soft option or the belief that offenders are given privileged access to opportunities which law abiding members of the community cannot afford".

But Mr Straw said the changes in policy showed that the Prison Service would be involved in the broader picture of dealing with youth crime, which Labour says it will address in the Crime and Disorder Bill.

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