Monday, November 8, 1999 Published at 16:45 GMT
Army prison recruitment confirmed
Some young offenders could have a future in the armed forces
The government has confirmed that the army will be seeking recruits from young people currently in prison.
Armed Forces Minister John Spellar told the Commons there would be strict safeguards and that certain categories of prisoners - those convicted of serious offences - would bot be considered.
He told MPs the proposals, which would allow some categories of young prisoners to join up once they had completed their sentences, would be "good for them, good for the country and good for the armed forces".
But Conservative MP Robert Syms was critical of the plans.
He said: "The armed forces are quite clearly suffering from overstretch at the moment, which is causing many people to leave the armed services early because of the pressures on them.
"We now hear the magic solution is for young offenders to be recruited.
"Is it not a sad commentary on this government and an indictment of this government's policy, that they have to be scouring the prisons for recruits in the next century?"
Mr Spellar replied: "Recruitment is at the best figures for a decade.
"I would have thought that it would have been very much welcomed that, where it was appropriate and where the individuals were properly selected, (the plans would) give people a second chance in life so that they could serve their country."
The National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders has welcomed the proposals as an "enlightened and imaginative move".
The scheme, where young convicts join the army after serving their time inside, would be restricted to those who have been sentenced to two years or less.
Inmates serving sentences for race, sex and drugs offences would be excluded from the scheme.
A pilot scheme, involving the assessment of youngsters at institutions in Dover, Kent, and Wetherby, West Yorkshire, is due to begin in the New Year.
Convicted criminals were banned from joining the forces until three-and-a-half years ago, when the rules were relaxed to allow certain categories of young offenders to join up.
All inmates will have to prove themselves before being enlisted by undergoing a 12-week military training course, involving physical fitness, drill, military history and map reading.