Tory peer criticises plan for 'mini-jails': Criminal Justice Bill under fire

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A CONSERVATIVE peer is heading a group opposing the Government's plans to lock up young offenders in specially built 'mini-prisons'.

Baroness Faithfull, a former social services director, yesterday spoke out against the pounds 100m proposals, warning that the five new 'secure training centres' were likely to turn children into worse offenders rather than rehabilitate them.

Her comments coincided with publication of a study by Save the Children, the leading children's charity, which concludes that the Government's plans are 'not well researched and an enormous waste of money'.

The remarks were timed to influence debate during tomorrow's second reading of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill, which includes a three-pronged increase in the severity of sentences for young offenders.

In response to public concern over juvenile crime, the Bill enables courts to make secure training orders for the centres of up to two years for persistent young offenders; to impose sentences of up to 14 years on 10- to 13-year-olds convicted of serious offences; and to send 15- to 17-year-olds to young offenders' institutions for up to two years.

But in the Bill - which also tackles such diverse issues as squatting, gypsy sites and terrorism - it is the clampdown on juveniles and the proposed removal of a defendant's right to remain silent, without jeopardising his defence, under police questioning which have aroused most opposition.

The five organisations that have joined forces behind Lady Faithfull to fight the 'mini-prisons' are the two associations for both social service directors and social workers, the two associations representing chief probation officers and probation officers, and the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders.

In their briefing paper, Creating More Criminals, they support the use of secure accommodation for some children, but argue that most should be dealt with in supervision programmes within the community. They cite research showing that 70 to 80 per cent of young people who are locked up are likely to re-offend on release, while only 45 to 55 per cent of those on intensive non- custodial penalties will commit further crime.

It says that government advocates of the new training centres have likened them to a Northern Ireland training school, which has a reconviction rate of over 85 per cent. 'The secure training order is a step backwards in both penal policy and childcare policy and is an indefensible misuse of scarce resources,' Lady Faithfull said.