13:52, September 19 85 0 theguardian.com

2017-09-19 13:52:03
Joining the rich and powerful scrum at Rugby won’t help young offenders

When I read the title (Don’t lock up young offenders – send them to public schools, 18 September) my first thought was that Afua Hirsch was advocating that young offenders should be schooled in the crimes of the rich and powerful, but then I read on. She makes a powerful case for a more intelligent use of resources, but her analysis suggests only a partial solution.

In 1977 Sir Douglas Black, then chief scientist at the DHSS, was commissioned to chair a group to look at inequalities and health. The report, published in 1980, reached the common-sense conclusion that inequalities in income, education, housing and work were the causes of health inequalities. As the report says, “poverty remains the chief cause of disease, and it is a factor which is beyond the immediate control of medicine”. By the time it was published, James Callaghan had been replaced as PM by Margaret Thatcher. I was head of the DHSS private office at the time and asked Sir Douglas what he thought would happen to his report. He said it would probably gather dust on a shelf because the necessary actions were too difficult and costly for politicians to contemplate. This report was buried but its reasoning is as valid today as it was then.

Unfortunately, pouring resources into one area of inequality – education – without tackling the others might have an effect at the margins, but it will not deal with the underlying issues. Since the coalition came to power in 2010, and with increasing rapidity since 2015, government policy has moved deliberately away from tackling the causes of inequality, which is becoming worse both relatively and absolutely.

Alan Healey

Bishops Castle, Shropshire

Afua Hirsch makes many valid points on the treatment of young offenders, but misses one. As she says, these facilities for difficult and convicted children are run by private firms. That is where the problem starts. It is difficult to think these firms have not been guaranteed a ready and growing supply of inmates, or at least have penalties to impose should the supply dry up. Private investors in such outfits would not part with a penny on any other basis. Exhausted business principles have been applied to social problems and this government, and perhaps even more so the one before it, is deaf to the crying fact that they just don’t work. John Bird, (Letters, 12 September) in his also welcome call for more work on prevention in our penal system, I feel, missed the same point too.

David Beake

Budock Water, Cornwall

Afua Hirsch is absolutely right in calling for the funds wasted in warehousing young offenders to be transferred to schools and childrens’ services. The same argument holds for the adult prison estate. I have friends who completed degrees and doctorates while serving jail sentences. This reflects well on their determination and poorly on an education system that failed to identify and support their potential at any earlier stage. If resources were diverted to education and social support, the working-class potential that is squandered by under-resourcing could be realised rather than wasted.

The most recently available Ministry of Justice statistics show that 23.8% of adult offenders in the October 2014 to September 2015 cohort reoffended within a year. Prisons don’t prevent crime and they breed addiction and self-harm. Yet we persist in throwing resources at the one thing that doesn’t work. For this to be done by a government supposedly committed to “good housekeeeping” is absurd.

Nick Moss

London

As someone who was sent to private boarding school at six, I read Afua Hirsch’s article with much interest. If one is sent to a primary boarding school, as one assumes the likes of Hirsch’s exemplar “Remi” would have to be, there is well-attested evidence that to rupture family relationships at such a tender age does damage to the growing psyche. The “self-confidence” of the boarding-school educated often hides an emotional illiteracy and lack of empathy normalised as the “stiff upper lip”. This has been well described by a psychotherapist specialising in “boarding school syndrome”, Nick Duffell, in his book Wounded Leaders. Hirsch has drawn an idealised view of boarding schools from her limited evidence of encountering pupils.

Her comments on the shortcomings and expense of Rainsbrook secure training centre are apposite. So is her analysis of the multiple problems underlying the plight of Remi. These are textbook examples of adverse childhood experiences, explored in James Redford’s recent film Resilience. These issues are indeed “complex” and are not susceptible to any simple solution, including that of “boarding”. While I can see the appeal of a “Rugby-quality-environment” as the palliative, this would actually entail a radical transformation of how we see the needs of children in our society – for the privileged as well as the underprivileged – and the provision of appropriate public resources. I see no sign that the present regime has the requisite awareness for such a change.

Simon Partridge

London

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