Letter: I am proof that alternatives to jail work

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IN THEIR article on juvenile crime, Nick Cohen and Michael Durham ranged as far afield as New York, California and Canada, yet did not refer to the more substantive experience in the Scottish children's panel system. This is aimed at children aged up to 16 who have been offenders or have been offended against (the two regularly go together).

The basis of the approach is that institutional detention of young persons rarely succeeds except in producing more committed and competent criminals, and that despite their sometimes detestable actions, 'offending' children have come from situations in which they need to be helped or rescued. A legal system doing nothing but catching young offenders, punishing or restraining them, and then setting them free, will do nothing to reduce crime.

An essential element of the Scottish system is that the children's panels which conduct hearings are made up of voluntary and unpaid lay people assisted by a professional reporter to the hearings.

Normally the whole family attend hearings and the panel members' decisions and the reasons for it must be made known to the family then and there. This well- tested system should cause at least as much as the 'greatest excitement' described in the article.

Edward Harkins

Burnside, Glasgow