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Thursday, 23 November, 2000, 02:08 GMT
Youth custody 'not always the answer'
Portland Young Offenders Institution
Institutions like Portland are not the answer, Lord Woolf says
The Lord Chief Justice has said putting young criminals in jail is not the most effective way to stop them re-offending.

Lord Woolf said youngsters currently leaving young offenders' institutions are re-offending at a "depressing rate".

"Anything that can be done better in a custodial centre can be done better in the community," he told a meeting of the Howard League for Penal Reform.

His remarks come as a leading children's charity says that youth prisons in England and Wales are at breaking point.

Children's Society

The Children's Society will publish a report next week which will focus on concerns about the treatment of young people in prison.

It is expected to call for an end to remands in custody for 15 and 16 year-olds.

Lord Woolf
Lord Woolf says locking up young offenders is not always the answer

Young offenders' institutions like Portland in Dorset and Feltham in West London have been beset with problems of overcrowding, racism and deaths in the last year.

Lord Woolf controversially ordered last month that James Bulger's killers, Jon Venables and Robert Thompson, can be released within months.

He told the Howard League meeting that the pair would be unable to cope if they were transferred to what he called the "corrosive atmosphere" of young offender institutions.

He said more attention should be paid to the views of the Chief Constable of Thames Valley police, Charles Pollard.

His constabulary has pioneered the process of restorative justice, which involves an offender facing his or her victim and the harm the crime has caused.

Martin Narey
Director of the Prison Service Martin Narey

Restorative justice has also been pioneered in Nottinghamshire, where it has seen the number of repeat young offenders reduced by almost one-quarter.

Lord Woolf said: "It has real potential. We must be cautious, we must not rush in.

"What the chief constable had to say was he was astonished how extremely angry, justifiably angry, victims who met young offenders changed and began to realise that the way forward for offenders was that they should be helped and not punished."

He said victims often became the advocate of the offender.

Chief Constable Pollard has been heavily critical of previous government policies of zero tolerance.

He believes that a punitive approach to juvenile justice is not the answer in itself.

He argues instead for problem-solving and mediation to form part of a structured package of rehabilitation for the offender.

Prison Service Director Martin Narey told the BBC that he has does not have enough money to target the rehabilitation of young offenders in their late teens.

He said: "We will see some improvements next year, but it will be several years before we can bring standards up for under 18s."

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11 Nov 00 | UK
Report rebukes youth jail
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