Where’s the will?

The way we lock up young offenders harms both them and the
community – which expects offenders to be rehabilitated, and has a
right to clear information from ministers about what works in
preventing reoffending.

We have evidence that incarceration in degrading conditions with
scant attention to welfare or education is counter-productive. But
there just isn’t the political will to act upon or publicise what
we know.

Of 14 reports covering young offenders institutions published by
the chief inspector of prisons in the past year, every single one –
even those praising improvements – contains fundamental criticisms.
So to label Ashfield as the worst ever is quite a claim.

Other spheres of social care – when dealing with the delayed
discharge of older people from hospital for example – show that
ministers can enforce change if they want to, even when resources
are fully stretched.

A national welfare-centred strategy for young offenders, as the
Michael Sieff Foundation recommends this week, is needed but must
have teeth: enforceable targets on reducing overcrowding, and
national standards that are acted upon before it’s too late.

The Youth Justice Board has now withdrawn from Ashfield – but too
late for hundreds of young people and the future victims of their

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