Under the Prime Minister's prompting, it seems likely that the Home Office will shortly bring forward plans for a new form of custody for 12- to 15-year-olds. Large sums of public money are to be devoted to building and running prisons for children.
The closest parallel to this 'new' initiative is the old system of approved schools. The Home Office's own research indicated that children given approved school orders were markedly more likely to commit crime than similar children dealt with in the community. This finding is consistent with the great body of research evidence which suggests that keeping young people out of institutions is the best way of ensuring that they do not graduate to a lifetime of crime and punishment.
Indeed, it is this evidence which has underpinned the highly successful juvenile crime policies pursued by the Government over the past decade. This has been a period when the number of juveniles in custody has fallen massively and - surprising though it may seem, given current controversies - the incidence of juvenile offending has also fallen. All of this should be a cause of pride, rather than of embarrassment.
There is a danger now of these advances being thrown away. None of us may be certain how to reduce crime, but the weight of evidence suggests that locking up children as young as 12 is a pretty sure way of increasing it.
Prison Reform Trust
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