LETTER : Boot camps do not work

Sir: It is difficult to know whether to laugh or cry at the planned use of the Colchester military corrective training centre as a boot camp for young offenders. Boot camps make great television for politicians wishing to look tough, but successive research studies have shown that tactics designed to train soldiers for war are not an effective way of rehabilitating juvenile delinquents.

Colchester does currently enjoy a low reconviction rate. But this is for two specific reasons. First, most of those sent there have committed offences (like the use of soft drugs) which would not result in a prison sentence in the civilian courts. Second, the regime at Colchester offers an excellent, relevant and intensive training course for servicemen and women who are to return to their units. Neither of these factors apply to young offenders.

During the early 1980s, the present government introduced the so-called "short, sharp shock", a similar package of macho strutting and paramilitary bombast. It was abandoned because magistrates increasingly opted for more constructive penalties, and because the Home Office's own evaluation showed that the shock programme did not work. Taxpayers' money should not be wasted repeating this folly.

Stephen Shaw


Prison Reform Trust

London EC1