The Prison Service wants to separate about 2,600 juveniles under 18 years old from other offenders and set up special regimes in an attempt to divert them away from a life of crime.
The proposal was disclosed yesterday as the Chief Inspector of Prisons published a major study into young offenders aged under 22, which concluded that current the system was doing more harm than good and needed a radical overhaul.
Sir David Ramsbotham's report said: "More damage is done to immature adolescents than to any other type of prisoner by current conditions."
In a surprise response, Richard Tilt, director-general of the Prison Service, said his agency proposed to separate offenders aged 15, 16 and 17 and place them in about seven or eight dedicated establishments. Offenders aged under 18 are currently locked up in Young Offenders Institutions (YOI) with others up to 22 years old and in a small number of cases adult prisons.
The new "juvenile jails" would probably be based at existing YOIs. They are likely to include special training programmes, education and greater emphasis on physical activities.
The creation of new regimes will cost an estimated pounds 18m a year at a time when money is extraordinarily tight for prison system and the number of inmates is rising.
Mr Tilt said he would present the proposals to ministers by the summer, but suggested more funding was likely to be needed.
Joyce Quin, Home Office minister, said they would be examined as part of a current review of the criminal justice system.
Yesterday's report said that a large proportion of those aged under 22 were locked into a cycle of reoffending, had a history of social service care, had taken drugs, and were victims of abuse.
It concluded: "Unless they [young offenders] receive individual attention and opportunities to change, their time in custody will make them worse rather than better."
- Jason Bennetto
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