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EDITIONS
Wednesday, 9 October, 2002, 15:06 GMT 16:06 UK
Tories target 'crime conveyor belt'
Thorn Cross Young Offenders prison
Young offenders would be rehabilitated

Young offenders would be lifted off "the conveyor belt of crime" and sent to new rehabilitation centres under Tory plans for slashing youth crime, the party's conference has been told.

It is tough, but it isn't uncivilised. It is caring, but it isn't a pushover

Oliver Letwin

In his speech in Bournemouth, shadow home secretary Oliver Letwin said a Tory government would also give drug addicts a choice - receive treatment or be sent to jail.

He also announced plans for a nationwide programme of parenting classes "to help parents become better parents".

The proposals form the core of the party's new "tough, but caring" approach to crime policy.

Under the plans 124 new centres would be opened across the UK where young offenders leaving jail would be taught how to become "decent human beings".

Mr Letwin said the new centres would help break the "conveyor belt of crime" which sees a hard core of 100,00 youngsters responsible for 50% of all offences.

They would extend current rehabilitation programmes, offering training and support for young offenders in an attempt to modify their behaviour and stop them re-offending.

'Touchy feely'

The plan marks a major shift for the Tories, who have previously concentrated on punishment and deterrence rather than rehabilitation.

Oliver Letwin
Letwin: Hoping to out bid Labour on tackling youth crime
But Mr Letwin has denied the proposals for the centres - which he has described as a cross between "touchy-feely" centres and boot camps - means the party is going soft on crime.

Under the proposals, young criminals would spend a year on top of their original sentences taking part in a concentrated programme of rehabilitation.

They would take courses in offending behaviour, anger management, drug and alcohol abuse, health, parenting and citizenship.

Mr Letwin said his programme was based on the innovative Centre for Adolescent Rehabilitation (C-Far) in Devon.

The project was set up by an ex-marine and is staffed by former soldiers, police and prison officers as well as social workers and probation officers.

Decent

The Tories believe the 372m annual cost of providing the centres needed for the plan would soon be offset by a reduction in re-offending.


This is indeed a conveyor belt of crime, and we fail to intervene effectively at every stage

Oliver Letwin
Mr Letwin said offenders would be "taught self-discipline, personal responsibility and generally how to behave like a decent human being" during 11 weeks at the centres.

It would involve 14-hour days, seven days a week.

"Following this period of open custody, the offenders aren't just dumped on the street," said Mr Letwin.

"Instead they are given nine months or more of intensive mentoring to find them jobs or further education and accommodation and to keep them on the straight and narrow.

'Ghastly'

"It is tough, but it isn't uncivilised. It is caring, but it isn't a pushover.

"And it works, the reconviction rate is hugely reduced."

Mr Letwin said that at present many young offenders were caught, jailed and then returned to the community for "in little time, the next mugging, the next courtroom, the next jail and onwards in a ghastly round of self-destruction and social destruction".

"We tolerate the recycling of the persistent young offender as if it were a fact of nature.

"This is indeed a conveyor belt of crime, and we fail to intervene effectively at every stage," he said.

He said drug addicts would be given a choice - to undergo treatment programmes or be sent to jail.

Limits

Too many young people addicted to cocaine and heroin were simply "dumped" back on the streets when they finished their sentences, he said.

Treatment programmes would be expanded tenfold under the Tories, he said, following a series of pilot projects were introduced.

He said a Tory government would also introduce parenting programmes nationwide "to help parents be better parents, showing them how to play with their children, praise them, discipline them and set limits for acceptable behaviour".

On asylum, he said "small, effective, fast accommodation" centres were needed to speed applications and a new treaty with France in order to send asylum seekers arriving in the UK back to France to have their applications processed.

On policing, he said he would introduce proposals for neighbourhood policing over the next few months.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Andrew Marr
"Even in leafy Bournemouth you can find places scarred by kids on drugs"
Fran Russell, Howard League
"There's no question the Tories have shifted enormously on Law and Order"

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See also:

08 Oct 02 | Politics
09 Oct 02 | England
08 Oct 02 | Politics
08 Oct 02 | Politics
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