Editorials

Creating new criminals

BMJ 1995; 311 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.311.7012.1037 (Published 21 October 1995) Cite this as: BMJ 1995;311:1037
  1. Tom McClintock, Honorary senior registrar in forensic psychiatry
  1. Institute of Psychiatry, London SE5 8AF

    Locking up juvenile offenders is more likely to result in them reoffending

    At its conference last week, the Conservative party announced plans for a new “get tough” policy of longer and harsher prison sentences for persistent and violent offenders. The British government is also planning to impose strict new regimes on juvenile offenders, looking to the “glasshouses” of British military prisons for inspiration.1 The issue of locking up children and young people is nothing new. Parkhurst Prison for Boys was established in 1838 mainly as a consequence of the “moral panic” about juvenile gangs destroying property.2 3 Whether there was in fact an upsurge in juvenile crime is not known, but a perception that there was led to a drive to protect juveniles both from themselves and from contamination by professional criminals. The same pressures are at work today.

    The interpretation of juvenile law breaking as posing a serious threat to social order has not really changed over the past 150 years. The British press has championed the right of victims to be protected from what is portrayed as a new breed of juvenile criminal,4 and public outcry against foreign trips designed to act as character building exercises for young offenders has increased the pressure to detain young offenders. Yet in the 1980s considerable expertise was developed in the United Kingdom …

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