Page last updated at 12:10 GMT, Friday, 22 January 2010

Turning around child criminals

By Alex Moss
BBC News, Leeds


East Moor is the largest secure children's home

Two young brothers have been detained indefinitely for an attack so brutal on an 11-year-old and nine-year-old boy that some details will never be made public.

But where does society start in turning around the behaviour of child criminals?

In England there are 18 local authority secure units, which house youngsters who have committed crimes of the magnitude of murder, rape or serious grievous bodily harm.

One of these is East Moor secure children's centre in Leeds - home to 36 young juveniles, most of whom are aged between 10 and 18 and have been sentenced or remanded by a court.

Here, the boys live in four houses, nine in each, with a member of staff responsible for three boys.

Earn luxuries

In an attempt to help them move away from their criminal behaviour, the children attend school during normal school hours with the emphasis on numeracy and literacy but also other subjects like art and cookery.

The boys are only locked in their rooms to sleep or for bad behaviour and through a reward scheme they can earn the right to luxuries such as a television and a games console.

I see it as my job to make sure they develop into tomorrow's adults because if we don't address it here, tomorrow's adults are going to be quite scary people
East Moor manager Frances N'Jie

The centre has its own gym, fitness room, all-weather sports pitch and large courtyard for games and activities.

But the high ratio of staff to children is expensive - it costs in the region of £500 per day to keep a youngster in a secure unit.

Manager Francis N'Jie accepts life in East Moor may not seem like fitting punishment for the crimes committed.

"If I didn't work here I'd probably think the same," he said.

"I think the reality of it is you need to do something different. We can't keep repeating in this country the same thing all the time. We need to take approaches that are slightly different."

'Low reoffending'

Mr N'Jie added: "They've got their own bedroom, that's about personal space. They need to understand some of the realities of life, loneliness, how to manage loneliness.

"I don't think we over-support them, I don't think we over-care for them. There are clear rules, structures and frameworks and they need to operate within that.

"They also understand that if they breach those there are consequences just as there are in society.

"They are kids, they are other people's kids, and I see it as my job to make sure they develop into tomorrow's adults because if we don't address it here, tomorrow's adults are going to be quite scary people."

A youngsters at East Moor secure children's centre
It costs 500 a day to keep a youngster in East Moor

East Moor's approach to examining the reasons for children's behaviour and working with them to find ways of avoiding reoffending has earned it a good reputation.

Mr N'Jie said the centre's statistics show within six months of leaving, only 43% of youngsters will reoffend.

Sixteen-year-old Sam, who was sentenced to two years and three months for a post-office robbery, is one of those children determined to turn around his life when he leaves East Moor.

The teenager has gathered a number of GCSEs during eight months at the centre.

"Me and one of my friends went to the post office with a knife and took all the money and the cigarettes," he said.

"I've now learnt I have to change my attitude, change my behaviour to stop myself getting back into trouble when I get out.

"It's just a wake up call for me... I don't want to put my Mum through it again.

"I'm going to stay away from the friends I was with and just stay out of trouble when I get out.

"I won't be back locked up, ever."

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