LETTER:Military prisons raise concerns

From Ms Deborah Coles and others

Sir: The Home Secretary's proposals to send young offenders to tough military prisons are ill-thought out and raise important legal and humanitarian concerns ("Army jail plan for young offenders", 24 August).

Military style regimes are designed specifically for soldiers and have little relevance to people who will be returned to the community at the end of their sentence.

Similar experiments in the early 1980s were the most clear cut failures in recent British penal policy doing nothing to reduce re-offending or the rates of youth crime generally and were abandoned by the courts as a viable sentencing option. The psychological effect of a militaristic, austere regime can only increase the possibility of suicides, suicide attempts, intimidation and bullying and further degrade, brutalise and damage an already alienated group of young people.

The Home Secretary's willingness to propose superficial "get tough", policies regardless of their merits shows a degree of intransigence that is of concern to all in the criminal justice system.

Michael Howard may have a pressing political need to satisfy the Tory right-wing but the long term solution to the problem of youth crime is community based alternatives to custody that address young people's needs and the personal and practical problems that led to their imprisonment in the first place.

Yours faithfully,

Deborah Coles, Helen Shaw (Co-directors, Inquest); Simon Creighton (Solicitor); Vicky King (Caseworker, Prisoners Advice Service)

London, N4

24 August