Page last updated at 14:56 GMT, Wednesday, 21 May 2008 15:56 UK

'Doing time didn't put me off crime'

By Catherine Marston
Social affairs correspondent, BBC News

Dale Coulson
Dale Coulson is now aiming to become a gym instructor
As a study suggests a decade-long drive to reduce youth crime has had "no measurable impact", a serial offender explains how even several spells in youth custody were not tough enough to stop him reoffending.

He stole his first car at 13. He first encountered the police before he was even 10. Dale Coulson from Mirfield, West Yorkshire, has convictions including robbery, actual bodily harm and assault - and they are all from incidents in his teens.

He describes an erratic childhood, spent getting into regular trouble with the police.

It began with childhood pranks such as climbing on the local school roof and annoying the neighbours but it quickly escalated into car-theft and stealing.

Nervous at first

He learnt how to steal from other boys on the streets and during his teens he found himself regularly arrested, taken to court and even sentenced to custody.

His first time in a secure unit was at 13. It was to become somewhere he got to know well.

Dale says at first he was nervous, he had no idea what to expect in custody, but the reality came as a relief.

He says: "I got in there and it was basically like Butlins, a little holiday for me," he says. "When I got out I thought it was the place to be, so I came out and I did exactly the same thing and had to go back."

It's so easy you want to go back.... it's not punishment, it's a bit of a holiday
Dale Coulson

Dale describes how, inside, he had use of his own TV and a games console. Life inside felt more regimented and secure than the outside. He just did not view it as punishment.

Appearing before courts, being arrested by the police, spending time locked up, none of it made any difference to him.

"I wasn't scared of it so it didn't stop me," he says. "I reckon it's just too easy really. If it had been harder for me I might not have gone back."

Dale says despite access to youth workers and offenders teams nothing seemed to help him and he can even recall a time where he realised nothing would stop his life of crime except a tough approach.

"I once went to court and I wrote a letter to the judge and I asked him to please send me to boot camp," he explains.

"I thought, 'If I go to boot camp it's so strict I may not do anything like it again'."

Dale believes he is a good example of how the government's youth justice reforms are not working.

He has joined a gym now which tries to help young offenders when all else has failed and it seems to be working so far.

He is currently trying to clean up his act and qualify as a personal trainer, but he's still on a suspended sentence so his offending days are not yet fully behind him.

"I would say what's needed is things to be a little harder inside," he says. "It's so easy you want to go back .... it's not punishment, it's a bit of a holiday."

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