Letter: Keep young offenders near home

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Sir: Defending his proposed new secure training order for 12- to 14-year-old offenders, the Home Secretary argues that local authority secure accommodation 'cannot offer the kind of high-quality, tailor-made regime which will be available in secure training centres'. ('Protection for the silent majority', 19 October).

In fact, the evidence strongly suggests that local authority secure accommodation is a much more appropriate option than secure training centres in cases where the secure containment of juveniles is necessary. In 1992 the Home Office Research and Planning Unit published research comparing regimes in local authority secure accommodation with those in the prison service's young offender institutions. This showed that the former provided significantly more and better quality education; gave greater help with detainees' problems; equipped young people with more qualifications, training and work experience; and had significantly lower reconviction rates.

The Government's secure training centres will be built on Prison Service land and run by private commercial organisations with no experience of dealing with difficult and vulnerable young children. As there will be only five centres, many young people will be held a long way from their homes.

This will make it difficult to maintain close links, through regular visits, with families and social workers from their home areas - links which are crucially important for young people's resettlement when they leave the secure institution. Moreover, depression aggravated by lack of contact with families is a common factor in suicide attempts by young people in custody.

The secure training order is a step backwards in both penal policy and child-care policy. Providing a better geographical spread of local authority secure places and strengthening resources for constructive supervision programmes in the community would be far more beneficial in tackling youth crime.

Yours faithfully, PAUL CAVADINO Chairman Penal Affairs Consortium London, SW9 19 October