Report questions value of 'holidays for hooligans'

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Millions of pounds is being spent on hang-gliding, horse-riding and other activity courses for young offenders without any clear evidence that they prevent reoffending, a report said yesterday.

Millions of pounds is being spent on hang-gliding, horse-riding and other activity courses for young offenders without any clear evidence that they prevent reoffending, a report said yesterday.

Thousands of offenders are being sent each year on courses involving outdoor adventure, camping, drama, football, snowboarding and other sports at a typical cost of up to £730.

Such programmes have been steeped in controversy since the revelation that one young serial offender, known as "Safari Boy", had been sent on an 88-day character-building trip to Africa. Since then have come the likes of "Center Parcs Boy", sent to a holiday camp, and "Canal Boy", who went on a series of canal cruises.

A report for the Home Office published yesterday by researchers at the University of Sheffield acknowledged it was difficult to evaluate the courses, which are usually part of a package of measures by the Probation Service to try to divert offenders from crime. The report said that 34 out of 54 probation areas still used them.

But as questions have been asked on the cost-effectiveness of such schemes, about a dozen probation service areas have stopped sending offenders.

The schemes, usually run by outside contractors, are intended to develop the offenders' personal and social skills through physical activity and team work as well as improving their self-confidence and fitness levels.

Outdoor adventure activities were the most popular among programme planners, but the research said there was no evidence that those were more likely than other activities to change offending behaviour

On average, about 64 per cent of offenders referred to the programmes completed them. The typical cost worked out at between £468 and £730, although this could soar to £6,019 on intensive courses.

The Probation Service said it agreed with the need for programmes to be evaluated and cost-effective. A spokesman for the Association of Chief Officers of Probation said: "These programmes should be tested interms of whether they change offending behaviour and whether that shows up in reconviction rates."

The activities schemes are regarded by some probation officers as valuable in introducing young offenders to a new social circle.