Ian Rankin battles to save 'boot camp' for Britain's hardest young offenders

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The Independent Online

Ian Rankin's greatest creation - Inspector John Rebus - spends his time catching them. But the writer himself just wants to give some of Britain's hardest young criminals a chance.

Rankin is spearheading a campaign to save a revolutionary "boot camp", which keeps young offenders out of jail and offers them hope of rehabilitation.

The Airborne Initiative is a unique project which puts 18- to 25-year-old persistent offenders through a gruelling nine-week programme that includes tough outdoor physical activities and anger-management classes.

Criminals can opt to go to the centre as an alternative to jail. But a BBC fly-on-the-wall documentary series, Chancers, which showed drug-taking and portrayed the inmates as violent and abusive, has prompted authorities to withdraw its funding.

Mr Rankin, who has sold more than six million copies of novels that intimately depict countless violent crimes and murders, is appalled at the prospect. He described the decision to attempt to close the Airborne Initiative, based in Lanarkshire, not far from the author's home in Edinburgh, as "short-sighted" and a "knee-jerk reaction".

Mr Rankin, who ironically became a patron of the project after watching the controversial television programme, said: "The Scottish Executive were rash to take away the funding. There are moves afoot to keep the Airborne Initiative alive and it should be saved.

"The Airborne Initiative is not a soft option. This is voluntary and if these guys give up on it they go to jail. These guys are damaged goods.

"They have suffered abuse, there are problems with alcohol, some of them have been in care homes."

Up to 80 young offenders take part in each Airborne programme. The majority have spent time in care and have been to prison before. The only alternative to the course at Airborne is a lengthy prison sentence.

Research carried out by Stirling University suggests that Airborne cuts reconviction rates by 21 per cent, but last week the Scottish Executive decided to withdraw the project's funding, claiming it was not effective enough. The facility's funding will continue until the end of March.

A spokesperson for the Scottish Executive denied the decision to withdraw funding was taken in response to the BBC series. He said: "The decision was made on the basis of its effectiveness and value for money. It wasn't getting the number of referrals it was funded for and the dropout rate was too high. It's more expensive than an equivalent time in prison."