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Tuesday, 16 April, 2002, 17:00 GMT 18:00 UK
Head to head: Young offenders
Brinsford Young Offenders' Prison
Young people with a history of crime can be held
Persistent young offenders face being locked up while they await trial under new powers given to courts, in an attempt to target street crime and young criminals.

Paul Cavadino, chief executive of crime reduction charity Nacro, is concerned at the move, which he says will ultimately put the public at greater risk from crime by young people.

But Criminal Justice Association director Peter Coad, who supports the new measures, argues that society must be protected from persistent offenders whatever their age.

Paul Cavadino

There are always going to be young people, and sometimes quite young children, who for their own protection or the protection of others need to be held in secure accommodation.

But we must not forget that whatever their offence, many young offenders are also children in need, and are recognised as such by law.

We're shifting now to very extensive powers, which means that young people in less extreme cases could be locked up.

Overall, a quarter of all people remanded in custody awaiting trial are found innocent when they get to trial, and only a fifth are given a prison sentence.

There's always a risk that what you don't know about crime when you go into custody you've learned by the time you come out.

If too many people are sent into secure units with a restrictive number of places it makes it harder for the units to provide rehabilitation for the young people they've got.

To make room for more remanded children, sentenced young people will have to be moved from local authority secure units into the prison system.

Yet the reconviction rates of young people leaving Prison Service institutions are significantly higher than those of similar children leaving local authority secure units.

This will therefore put the public at greater risk from crime by young people on release. The already overstretched prison system will be additionally burdened by an influx of young offenders transferred from secure units.

For most young people what we need are effective, intensive supervision programmes that start working to change attitudes to offending, to get young people back into education, and to tackle the problems - like family problems and drug and alcohol abuse - that are often connected with crime.

Peter Coad

Persistent criminals should be locked up. It's as simple and as stark as that.

It doesn't matter whether the offenders are juveniles or adults, if an offence has been committed, the first role of the courts is to protect the public.

To let someone walk out of a court with a string of previous convictions and the likelihood that they're going to go and continue offending is totally objectionable.

There is absolutely no evidence to support the argument that moving young offenders from secure units into other institutions reduces their chances of rehabilitation.

The absolute truth is that unless a criminal is motivated to stop offending, there is no such thing as an effective supervision programme that will change them. It simply does not work.

One of the things about zero tolerance, apart from reducing the crime rate, is that it actually has a moral direction - if you do something wrong you get punished for it.

I cannot support persistent offenders - regardless of their age - being inflicted on an innocent public who have no say in the process.

The anti-prison lobby is going back to the old cliches that prisons and the like are universities of crime. If you really think about it, this is nonsense.

It's not bricks and mortar that make a criminal, it's what people decide to do, how they choose to behave. It's a personal decision.

Since about 1970 there's been such a liberal attitude towards custodial sentences that now millions of criminals are in the community. You don't have to go to an institution to learn criminal skills - you can learn them in youth clubs, pubs and on street corners.

See also:

16 Apr 02 | UK Politics
Blunkett targets young criminals
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