Letter: Youth detention

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Youth detention

Sir: You recently published a moving and compelling article based on a speech by Fran Russell, the assistant director of the Howard League (The Wednesday Review, 22 July). She said that prison is no place for teenage girls.

The essence of her argument was that regimes are about conformity through punishment rather than bringing about good behaviour via development of the young women; that the high levels of bullying, anxiety and emotional disturbance cause women to mutilate themselves on a large scale and frequently attempt suicide; the lack of staff for dealing with volatile adolescents; the absurdity and inappropriateness of the semi-judicial adjudication system that many young people simply don't understand; the frequent locking up of teenagers for long hours with nothing constructive to do, and so on.

Every single argument that she made applies equally to teenage boys in prison. I know because I am a visitor to a prison for young offenders. I rarely leave without literally wanting to weep at the cruel and counterproductive stupidity of it all and the absurd waste of public money.

The special case for girls, according to Fran, is that there are so few of them in gaol that the prison service cannot afford to provide them with a suitably tailored regime. Has she seen what is available in boys' prisons? The larger numbers are exploited to achieve economies of scale rather than to develop positive regimes.