LETTER : 'Benighted' boot camps

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The Independent Online
From Mr Stephen Shaw

Sir: As you rightly comment in your leading article ("People in glass houses", 25 August), it is fanciful to believe that military-run boot camps will do anything to solve the problem of youthful delinquency.

But since this benighted idea is apparently being taken seriously, two points are worth making. First, the camps could not legally be run under the military code of discipline. Boot camps are not a concept acknowledged in law. The Home Secretary would have to designate the whole or part of the detention barracks at Colchester as a young offender institution, subject to the same safeguards (monitoring by an independent Board of Visitors and inspection by the redoubtable Judge Tumim) and operating under the same young offender rules as apply in every other Prison Service establishment.

Second, the claimed recidivism rates for military personnel who have gone through the Military Corrective Training Centre at Colchester have never been subject to independent verification. Indeed, only since mid- 1993 has any attempt been made by the military authorities to find out what happens to those ex-Colchester inmates who are thrown out of the services, and no details of the findings have been published. Of those Colchester detainees who return to their units, there may well be a low rate of recidivism. But since the regime consists of intensive and relevant military training, this is hardly surprising.

Military justice, like military intelligence and military music, is widely regarded as a contradiction in terms. Certainly, when I toured the Colchester barracks 18 months ago, the notion of prisoners' rights had made little headway. Nevertheless, the regime did equip those returning to the services with skills useful on their release. But what this has to do with the needs of young offenders, many of them suffering acute social, medical and educational disadvantages, is quite beyond me.

Yours faithfully,

Stephen Shaw


Prison Reform Trust

London, EC1

25 August