Letter: Care, not detention, for juveniles

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Sir: The announcement by Kenneth Clarke that the Government plans to open new secure training centres for 12- to 15-year-olds raises more urgent questions than it provides answers ('Juveniles to be locked up', 3 March). The nature and size of the problem of the very young offender needs careful appraisal.

We accept that there are a small number of juveniles who do require secure detention, although, in our view, the main thrust of provision for children and families needs to be in community and residentially based services, and thereby on earlier prevention of offending behaviour. Regrettably, many of these local authority and voluntary sector services have recently been dismantled (for example, Dartmouth House in Greenwich and Peper Harow, in Surrey).

The major children's charities, and many others, are right to call attention to the experience and expertise which already exists in relation to young offenders and their antisocial behaviour, and its containment. We are concerned that this knowledge will be disregarded and the experience of well-trained staff squandered under the proposals for these very expensive new secure training units.

There is good research evidence and widespread agreement that child and adolescent prisons do not have a positive rehabilitative effect, but rather that they increase rates of recidivism (the so-called 'schools of crime' effect). At best, they merely delay the antisocial behaviour until release, and fail to address the child's needs.

The best kind of containment is self-containment. Children who offend have invariably been deprived of adequate parenting, and have not acquired this capacity. For such children, understanding is essential, but is not to be confused with an attitude of condoning or with exoneration of bad behaviour. A great deal of knowledge exists regarding the emotional neglect and the physical and sexual abuse of children and its consequences, which include disordered personality development and offending. Any rehabilitative approach - especially for children - must start from that knowledge.

In our view, this work is too important to be left to any one authority. There is an urgent need for joint working among Home Office, prison department, social and educational services and the health services, as well as voluntary agencies, in order adequately to respond to the challenge.

What is quite clear - by contrast with the failed short, sharp shock philosophy - is that the containment, care and growing of often very damaged and disturbed children needs to be long-term, whether in residential facilities or in community follow-through.

Yours faithfully,

CHRISTOPHER CORDESS, Consultant Forensic Psychiatrist; GRAEME FARQUHARSON, former director of Peper Harow; ROGER GRAEF, Author of 'Living Dangerously'; Dr KINGSLEY NORTON, Consultant Psychotherapist; Dr TIM SCANNELL, Consultant Adolescent Psychiatrist; VALERIE SINASON, Child Psychotherapist; Dr GUINIVERE TUFNELL, Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist; Dr ESTELA WELLDON, Consultant Psychotherapist; PETER WILSON, Director of Young Minds

London, W11

8 March