LETTER: My time at boot camp

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The Independent Online
Sir: Having spent time in a detention centre, I feel better qualified than most to comment on the Government proposals for hard new "boot camps" as a means of controlling youth crime (report, 7 February).

For two weeks in 1972, I was incarcerated at Haslar Detention Centre in Portsmouth (now closed) as part of my training as a probation officer. I lived the life alongside young offenders and it gave me an uncomfortably close view of what such regimes can achieve. The answer is, quite simply, they produce very fit young offenders and that's about all.

We were on the square at 6.30 every morning, and each minute of the day was filled with arduous tasks. It was almost identical, in fact, to army basic training, which, as an ex-regular soldier, I have also experienced.

Attitudes to crime remained unchanged. Re-offending statistics were terrible. The young men who emerged at the end were simply proud of having beaten the system by surviving such a gruelling process. Neither short sharp shocks, nor boot camps, nor any similar process under any similar gimmicky name will ever cut crime, because the focus is too narrow. They concentrate on the area that offenders know best - the physical - and ignore precisely those parts of human experience - mental and emotional - that require most attention in young offenders.

Three years ago, the Government invented "Combination Orders" as a way of curbing crime. These make offenders work for the community while also fulfilling the terms of a probation order. They are a good idea, not least because they can force offenders tohelp those less advantaged than themselves, which can be a cathartic experience.

Yours faithfully, David Martin Assistant Chief Probation Officer South East London Probation Service Bromley, Kent 7 February

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