Increase stability

You are right to highlight the plight of young
people remanded in prisons (“Youth crimes and punishment”, 14
February). However, there are problems associated with the
“two-pronged approach”.

The use of alternatives – remand fostering,
intensive supervision and so on – has been the policy for many
years. The magistracy has generally shown a lack of confidence in
them. Even where the use of alternatives has increased, the level
of remand has risen to ensure that real benefits are not

The widening of the role of secure training
centres is a mixed blessing. While it ensures that some young
people who would have been remanded to prison service accommodation
receive a more child-focused intervention, mixing those on remand
with those serving a sentence creates different issues. The prison
service with all its shortcomings rarely mixes people in this

Firstly, those who are “innocent until proven
guilty” have to share the same regime as those found guilty of
offences. Secondly, young people on remand divert staff time from
those serving sentences.

Additionally, many of those who find
themselves in secure settings are from elsewhere within the care
system. It is hard to see how Quality Protects benefits these young
people. Secure remands and short sentences are in direct opposition
to the principle of increasing stability in the placement of this
vulnerable group. This is an area for more “joined-up” government

Roy Grimwood
Children’s convenor
Social Care Association

Simulation no substitute

Social work lecturer William Horder (News,
page 13, 28 February) is right to be concerned about the suggestion
that in England students may have one long placement backed up by
simulations and observations. In Wales the Diploma in Social Work
Forum, a group charged with working on the reform of social work
education and training in Wales, has roundly rejected any
suggestion that simulation is an adequate substitute for practice

There are many differences between England and
Wales with regard to the new degree in social work, how it will be
implemented and the routes by which it may be accomplished. Not
least is the decision by the National Assembly for Wales to endorse
the recommendation that it will not start until 2004, giving a
sensible period of time in which to review existing arrangements
and make good and unhurried decisions about how to meet the need
for well-trained social workers in the future.

Penny Lloyd
Professional officer, Wales
British Association of Social Workers

Liberal attitude to drugs

Yvonne Roberts (7 March) advocates proposals
on drugs that are very close to those the Liberal Democrats were
arguing for at our spring conference in Manchester.

We expect to hear comment from our opponents.
It would be nice to hear some from our friends too.

Conrad Russell
House of Lords

Weakness in the system

Apart from the lack of community-based
alternatives to hospital admission for people in mental health
crisis (“Acute alternative”, 28 February), the greatest weakness of
the present system is that the main statutory providers of mental
health services – the NHS trusts – have no legal duty to respond to
urgent calls for help. Approved social workers, however, do have
such a duty, and are often called out even where the person in
crisis is asking for help and there should be no question of using
the Mental Health Act 1983.

But ASWs have no power to insist that NHS
services should provide treatment, and the Mental Health Act
Commission has advised them that, if they are unable to persuade
the hospital to admit their client, they should take them there
nevertheless and demand a bed! This is astonishing advice from an
NHS body. It also ignores the fact that in joint services the ASW
may now be responsible to the managers of the hospital.

The white paper on the reform of the Mental
Health Act did not fully address these and other deficiencies in
the current system for responding to mental health crises. In
particular it offered no remedy for the increasingly invidious
position of the ASWs, other than to suggest that if social workers
no longer wanted to do the job, nurses could be drafted in instead.
The mental health special interest group of the British Association
of Social Workers has therefore published a set of alternative
proposals derived from a set of core principles, and these can be
found on its website at  

Roger Hargreaves
Glossop, Derbyshire

Incompetent drafting

The news that antisocial behaviour orders are
receiving a “mixed reception” and “low usage” is not surprising
(News Analysis, 28 February). The reason is the law’s incompetent
and indiscriminate drafting.

The words “cause or likely to cause” mean that
nobody needs to have been affected for an ASBO to be applied, and a
local authority therefore has carte blanche to persecute any
behaviour it deems eccentric or inappropriate. Sanctions include
eviction and banishment from a particular area, and punishment for
disobedience is up to five years’ imprisonment.

Yet ASBOs require only the civil law “balance
of probabilities” standard of proof – and before magistrates, who
almost invariably rubber-stamp police and local authority evidence.
Legal aid is unavailable.

ASBO victims are often demonised in the press,
although they have not been convicted of any criminal offence. They
and their children are therefore at risk of vigilantism.

This makes ASBOs a potential minefield, with
expensive cases going all the way to Strasbourg, both for those who
seek them and those they are imposed upon. Take-up is inevitably
low. Only a more careful, balanced, humane and conciliatory law can
protect the public from the miseries of antisocial behaviour.

V Townley
Wood Green

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