Letter: Inmate's view of young offenders

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The Independent Online
Sir: In light of the arrest and charging with murder of two 10- year-old boys from Liverpool, I, as an inmate of the 'Wolds', have been encouraged to write on the subject of young offenders. My opinion does not usually mean much. Prisoners/inmates of such establishments have little contact with the media and the media don't appear to be beating a path to the door to interview us. However, many would welcome the chance to have our views known regarding young offenders. After all, many of the prison population started out as young offenders.

What this country needs is not imprisonment for young offenders. Imprisonment, whether it be a secure unit/children's home or detention centre for a young person, can be a far more frightening, traumatic and damaging experience than many experts believe. For a 12- or 13-year-old placed in a secure unit/assessment centre, initially, there is an overwhelming feeling of loneliness and isolation. They are separated from their families - that in itself can be very frightening. Often the child may not fully understand why he or she has been placed in that centre in the first place.

Then there is peer pressure from the other seemingly worldly wise residents, either to engage in minor criminal activities or just to bully the smaller, more vulnerable youngsters for pleasure. Eventually, the youngster reaches the stage where he/she is too afraid to go to their 'guardians', the very people the courts have appointed to oversee the child's welfare and wellbeing.

There are many problems that stem from youngsters being committed to custody at a young age, far too many to list here. What is needed is a new approach. One idea would be a form of counselling from former prisoners and prisoners still in custody. I and many other offenders would be happy to talk and listen to these youngsters and point out our own mistakes and shortcomings, in the hope that we could convince one youngster out of a hundred that he was on the wrong track.

Most law-abiding citizens have the impression that all prisoners are evil, wicked people. Yes, there are a lot of evil, wicked people in prison, but there are also a great many inmates who genuinely care about the youth of today.

On a personal note, when I was a child, these establishments were not very pleasant places to live. Had a different approach been used in the early Seventies, when I was a 'guest' in several of these establishments, I believe I would not be writing this letter today.

Yours respectfully,

JOHN NAVIN

The Wolds Remand Centre

Everthorpe, Humberside

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