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Tuesday, January 12, 1999 Published at 17:01 GMT


UK

'Boot camp' name change call

Life at Thorn Cross is tough but effective, says the report

The Chief Inspector of Prisons, Sir David Ramsbotham, says the UK's first military-style regime for young offenders is an inspirational example of good practice.


Home Affairs Correspondent Jane Peel: "There were suggestions it would be modelled on US boot camps"
But Sir David said Thorn Cross Young Offender Institution in Cheshire is no "boot camp" and that its name and image should be changed accordingly.

The institution was opened by the last government in 1996 as part of a Conservative policy to get tough on youth crime.

A prison rights campaign group says it is ironic that the best aspects of the regime are not military-style discipline but its emphasis on education and work.


[ image: Sir David Ramsbotham: Inspired by regime]
Sir David Ramsbotham: Inspired by regime
In his report, Sir David calls for the best elements of its High Intensity Training (HIT) project to be applied elsewhere, and urges the opening of a similar institution in the south of England.

He praises the whole Thorn Cross establishment but describes HIT in particular as "one of the most exciting developments in the Prison Service".

"It was an inspiring attempt to create a whole regime," said Sir David.

"Young prisoners completing the course had a real opportunity to benefit from the experience of being in prison - something that is far removed from the often very destructive nature of prison life."

The HIT project is one of five at the open establishment near Warrington, and involves a structured 16-hour daily regime.

Of 218 prisoners who had joined it some 161 have completed the first four phases of the programme, while 122 have successfully finished all five.


[ image: Regime is from dawn to dusk]
Regime is from dawn to dusk
The report admits the daily regime is "very long and physically demanding".

Inmates are expected to maintain military-style standards of cleanliness, while undergoing gruelling physical challenges.

But the six-month course also sees prisoners aged 18-21 learning life skills and undergoing courses to challenge their offending behaviour.

They also receive vocational training and spend the last phase of their sentence working outside the prison.

Constructive prison works

Paul Cavadino, director of policy of the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders, said the success shows that positive regimes produce better results.

"It is ironic that the last government chose to introduce the high intensity training regime to the accompaniment of punitive rhetoric and references to `boot camps'.

"In fact the regime is a thoroughly constructive one with a strong emphasis on education, community work, preparation for employment and work to change offending behaviour."

The Thorn Cross experience is in contrast to that of the more draconian army-run Military Corrective Training Centre at Colchester, Essex.

It closed last year after only a year in operation amid concern that the cost of £31,000 a year per inmate was not warranted by the results.

Comparative figures for the cost of a place on the HIT project will not be available until the summer. The average cost of a place in a young offender institution is around £23,000.

The report adds that it is also too soon to say whether the unit has succeeded in cutting re-offending rates, although it is understood that initial results have been encouraging.



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