Letter: The harm of locking children up

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The Independent Online
Sir: Your leading article ('Suicide message to politicians', 30 August) questioned the political pressures to lock up more and more teenagers despite stark evidence of the physical and emotional dangers to young people deprived of their liberty.

This is not the only evidence being ignored. Some politicians have turned a blind eye to the fact that reoffending rates are higher among young people who have been locked up than they are among those given community- based sentences.

The Government has decided to set up a new generation of secure institutions for 12- to 14-year- olds. No official evidence, other than the anecdotal, has been produced to support this move, and yet it is being taken at enormous public expense. Save the Children carried out its own research in the North-east and could find no justification for the new centres based on current sentencing patterns and provision.

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which the UK government has ratified, says that children should only be locked up as a last resort and that a full range of alternatives to custody should be developed. The debate on young offenders has tended to ignore this so far.

A system of secure accommodation already exists to which children who genuinely present a danger to themselves and to others can be committed. Community-based projects for charged and convicted children have been effective, as demonstrated by the Home Office's own figures. These could have been developed further with the investment which will instead be poured into 'secure training centres'. It is a pity the politicians have preferred a scheme which will harm children and not reduce crime to measures which benefit children and stop offenders reoffending.

Yours,

JOHN ERRINGTON

Northern Divisional Director,

Save the Children

London, SE5

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