Chief Superintendent Edgar Day, president of the Police Superintendents' Association, said that a new type of establishment was needed to serve as a 'halfway house' between community- based punishments and prisons.
Ch Supt Day, speaking on the eve of the association's annual conference in Blackpool, said such an alternative was needed because community-based schemes were too soft and prisons unsuitable and overcrowded.
He will press for 'corrective centres' when he addresses the conference this morning, which will be attended by Kenneth Clarke, the Home Secretary, who is also due to speak.
The association argues that although approved schools were phased out in the 1970s and the 'short, sharp shock' centres which existed in the early 1980s were recognised to have failed, the rising crime rate, particularly that involving juveniles, makes a study of all options necessary.
Ch Supt Day said such institutions would not necessarily be run by the prison service. But they should combine both education and corrective discipline and be aimed at 14- to 18-year-olds, particularly persistent re-offenders. 'The thing to stress is the element of 'correction' which is missing at the moment,' he said.
Ch Supt Peter Wall, the national secretary of the association, said: 'The solution to rising crime is not to fill the police cells or to turn prisoners out on to the streets. We have to find a middle way and indulge in some lateral thinking.'
He said that in a number of areas a small group of offenders were responsible for large proportions of local crime. 'If we can tackle these types of offenders then we are well on our way to dealing with the crime rate.'
The association is concerned that the number of secure places for young offenders is insufficient. Around 280 places are provided at secure homes run by the Department of Health, where Ch Supt Wall said staff were often prevented by their rules from stopping absconders, while the prison service runs a small number of young offender institutions which have high re-offending rates.
Recently Dr Masud Hoghughi, director for the Aycliffe Centre for Children in Co Durham, warned that a small core of offenders was indulging in behaviour which was becoming impossible for society to control. The centre, run by local social services, has a high absconding rate and is said to account for about a fifth of all local crimes.
A return to approved schools or something similar is likely to be met with strong opposition by penal reformers, who say that strict regimes do not prevent persistent re-offending.
The association said it was also keen for the Home Office to pursue the idea of part-time custodial sentences at weekends, canvassed in a Green Paper in the mid- Eighties, for certain types of adult offenders who had full-time jobs, such as convicted drink-drivers or fraudsters.
Ch Supt Wall said this would be a productive way of using up space vacated by prisoners who were on weekend parole.