Jail alternative that provides an incentive to change: Detention has failed to stop teenagers re-offending, critics argue. Heather Mills reports

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The Independent Online
'Prison is totally crime-ridden. It'll do you no good at all. I think if you get used to prison at an early age, it'll make you much worse,' Joel, aged 21, said.

He has spent four short spells in prison and dreads ever going back. But he still offends. He has a serious drug problem and he 'thieves' to feed it. He also steals to survive. 'I'm homeless, so I can't get any benefit. How else can I get by? I steal from cars, that kind of thing.'

Joel was one of the eight young men whose lives have been the substance of the book used yesterday to underline a campaign for a radical rethink in the way the Government is tackling youth crime.

Like the other young men featured in Living Dangerously, Joel spent 10 weeks at Sherborne House, a project jointly run by the probation service and the Sherborne Trust in south London. It is used largely as an intensive alternative to imprisonment, where clients acquire basic skills and examine their offending. Largely in response to the book, Sherborne now looks to provide help for the young men's future by helping to find college and training facilities.

In terms of deterring people from re- offending, Sherborne is a major success. Its clients are 17 per cent less likely to reoffend than those who have been in prison. It costs about pounds 72 a week to keep someone on probation for a year, including a 10-week course at Sherborne, compared to about pounds 330 in prison.

One of Sherborne's undoubted 'successes' is Bobby. His childhood was one of violence and neglect, and he turned to crime as a teenager - progressing from stealing cars to burglary to violent fights. Now aged 22, he is married, has his own flat, is studying at college, and two weeks ago became a father. 'I do believe it was the help and encouragement I got at Sherborne that turned me round. Before that I had no incentive to change. It is still tough but we are doing it and I'm not tempted back to crime.'

Even Joel, who continues to steal, feels that Sherborne has had a beneficial influence. It made him for the first time think about the victims of his offences. 'I don't do any burglaries any more,' he said. 'I realise it causes such upset.'

(Photograph omitted)