Do our YOIs need policing?

The news that parliament will have a veto on sending girls and younger boys to the new secure colleges is to be welcomed, but this comes hard on the heels of the revelation that Feltham Young Offenders Unit, one of the sites for the proposed new secure colleges, is considering drafting in police officers to deal with gang-related violence.

I’m still struggling to understand the rationale. Do the powers-that-be believe the police will have more authority than their prison officers? For incarcerated young people, particularly those who are prepared to risk losing parole, or attracting longer sentences through their behaviour, I can’t really see what difference it can possibly make. Perhaps on the contrary, bringing in the police may antagonise already tense relationships as well as undermining the role of current staff.

To me this is just another example of dealing with symptoms rather than causes. The political obsession with being tough on crime leads to a head-in-the-sand approach to evidence-based policy.

Until it sadly folded, I was an ambassador for Make Justice Work. They were determined campaigners, making the case for getting rid of short sentences and looking at alternatives to custody for minor offences.

I’ll never forget attending one of their "Community or Custody" events in Leicester, hearing from young men whose lives had been turned around when a different approach was taken to tackling the causes of their offending behaviour (drug related) – most powerfully encouraging them to become mentors to help others. The programme they were involved in cut reoffending by 44 per cent and the cost of reoffending by 48 per cent. Interestingly at the same event we heard from a prison governor who certainly shocked me when he revealed that prisons have no targets at all to reduce reoffending!

We know that 9 out of 10 prisoners have a mental health condition, 1 in 4 have been in the care system, many, particularly young women, have suffered both physical and sexual abuse. Do we honestly believe that prison is the right place for all of them?

So – getting back to the question in hand. Bringing in the police will be an attempt to put a plaster on a massive gaping wound, to be reactive rather than proactive, to fail to tackle the underlying and often complex reasons for offending. And as Gareth Jones pointed out in a comment on this story, “So how many police will be needed for the proposed secure college?”

Linda Jack is a member of the Parliamentary Policy Committee for Education, Young People and Families, and former member of the Federal Policy Committee