LETTERS: Jail crisis hits young hardest

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The Independent Online
YOU are quite right to draw attention to the crisis within our prison system ("Shut up, and pay the price", 24 December). However, I would suggest that the situation is considerably worse when you consider recent developments in the treatment of children and young people.

In 1991 the Government claimed to be so concerned about the appalling conditions suffered by juveniles on remand - and the inherent nature of the abuse and suicides that take place - that it proposed in itsCriminal Justice Act that custodial remands for 15- and 16-year-olds were to be phased out. Nothing has yet happened and the abuse continues. Indeed, the number remanded to custodyincreased by 86 per cent in the two years between implementation of the Act in October 1992 and September 1994. These are unconvicted children awaiting trial.

Similarly, the number of children sentenced to custody after trial has shown an increase since 1992 - and the situation will deteriorate. The Government is due to announce which private companies are to be awarded the contracts for the building and running of the first two Secure Training Centres - private prisons for 12- to 14-year-olds.

We continue to witness an ill-informed public debate about juvenile crime which results in harsh and counter-productive measures designed to make children responsible for society's problems. Surely we should acknowledge the unique position of children and recognise that punishing them within such a system reinforces the impression that society has given up on them.

No, it is not "crass demagoguery" to accuse Michael Howard of having blood on his hands - it is an inevitable consequence of his criminal justice policy, and increasingly the blood will be that of children.

Mike Thomas

Chair, National Association for Youth Justice

Luton, Beds

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