Our shameful policy of locking up young people | Letters

Frances Crook of the Howard League for Penal Reform says we should be closing down our youth prison system, not expanding it; David Scott says England and Wales stand virtually alone in the EU in the use of child life sentencesShauneen Lambe is right that our child prisons are a disgrace and that they are harming children (Youth prisons don’t deter criminals. They enable them, 21 November). The answer is to close them down, not to look to other countries that have similar failing institutions. She points to Diagrama, an organisation that runs child jails in Spain, and has been trying to enter the lucrative UK child incarceration market. I have visited some of its jails in Spain and saw Victorian education delivered in bleak and remote establishments. There was nothing we should copy.

It was misjudged of the commissioner of the Metropolitan police to abuse an invitation to speak at a charity’s AGM and call for more children – in effect more black boys – to be incarcerated and for longer. We have gone down that path for two centuries and it has been a disaster. It was all the more bizarre as police forces round the country are successfully reducing child contact with the criminal justice system and there is a good-news story to tell. All experience and research shows that arrest, prosecution and incarceration of children leads to worse outcomes for the child, for victims and for the taxpayer.

Frances Crook

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