As part of charity work I frequently visit one of the young offenders' institutions in London. I speak regularly to youngsters aged 15 to 18. I do not consider myself particularly gullible, but I have to say that I have not yet met a truly bad, criminalised youngster, although I fear some may well become so if they are given no hope by the system.
Many of those I see are illiterate for all sorts of reasons, among them the failure of the schools to motivate them. They spend much of their time incarcerated in their cells, mostly single ones. Up to the age of 16, they are entitled to so many hours of education a week, quite often cancelled because of staff problems. Similarly, they are supposed to spend so many hours in the gymnasium. They collect their meals and return to their cells to eat in isolation. They are allowed an hour and a half free association each day, but again this may be cancelled.
There is an atmosphere of punishment pervading the entire approach to these youngsters and none of rehabilitation. Those on remand can wait months for their cases to come to court. Those convicted can lose remission for the most trivial offence. Is it any wonder then that many fall prey to depression and some commit suicide? Where is Mr Major's programme where he says 'they can be taught and trained for a useful future'?
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