Friday, April 10, 2009

Law & Order : Boot camps for Scotland to tackle youth crime

As the ever spiralling youth crime rate edges higher, the Scottish Government has decided to use army style boot camps to tackle problem teenagers. (Hope they get a good RSM to shape them up – Ed)

The Scotsman reports :

Boot camps the latest weapon to fight teenage crime

Published Date: 10 April 2009

THE Scottish Government has signalled its intention to tackle youth crime by rolling out army-run "boot camps" for problem teenagers.

In another move away from Labour's policy on punitive antisocial behaviour orders, community safety minister Fergus Ewing praised the success of a scheme in the Highlands for teenagers aged 15-17.

On a visit to the Operation Youth Advantage initiative, an intensive five-day residential course at Cameron Barracks in Inverness, Mr Ewing said: "If this can be brought to other parts of Scotland, we will find the money."

The aim of the tough outdoor course is to give the youngsters the motivation to stay away from crime. Only 30 per cent of those who attend go on to reoffend.

Mr Ewing visited the barracks following reports that youth crime in Inverness had risen by 15 per cent over the past three years. Northern Constabulary has already asked the Scottish Government to allow it to impose a curfew on repeat offenders under 16, as one way of tackling the problem.

The courses are run by the army, with help from police forces in the Northern and Grampian regions.

Youngsters attend from throughout the Highlands and Islands and Grampian. The camps are held during school holidays and about 120 teenagers attend voluntarily each year, having been referred by police or local authorities.

They take part in low-level military activities, including drill, sports, assault courses, map-reading and living in the field, to help develop confidence, teamwork and leadership skills.

They are also given advice on drugs and alcohol, citizenship, road safety and first aid.

Following the course, each attendee is presented with a certificate assessing their personal qualities and rating in the physical test, with the team commander commenting on personality, performance and potential.

Mr Ewing said: "This course is aimed at youngsters who are on the cusp of being a serious problem to society.They have already been a nuisance to their communities and have committed antisocial behaviour, but probably have not had much of a start in life.

"I am determined to see whether we can learn the lessons from this scheme in the Highlands elsewhere in Scotland and see if we can help the most troubled and difficult youngsters to take part in similar types of activity. I'm hopeful we can do that in the years ahead."

Ian Latimer, Northern Constabulary's chief constable, said the courses were one of several initiatives used by the force to help youngsters. Others include holding midnight football and basketball games. A move towards outdoor "boot camps" would fit into the Scottish Government's approach to youth crime, which has been to move away from the punitive sort of approach, typified by junior Asbos and move instead towards more preventive, community measures.

Teenagers on the course yesterday said their experiences had been positive.

Neil MacIntyre, 16, from Barra, said: "I heard about the course through my school, and it's been good. It's taught me self-discipline and to respect my elders."

Simon Hoy, 15, from Elgin, said: "I'm enjoying it. It's been good fun and I would do it again. I think I will be a lot more polite to people now."

The scheme contrasts with the controversial Airborne Initiative boot camps, which were run in Braidwood, Lanarkshire, for repeat offenders aged 18-25.

Airborne put the "recruits" through a tough army-style regime, but it was stopped after the BBC TV series Chancers showed young men on the programme becoming violent, drinking and taking drugs.

In opposition, the SNP pledged to revive the Airborne initiative, although nothing has progressed on this.

Labour's justice spokesman, Richard Baker, said: "It is all very well for Fergus Ewing to highlight the scheme without putting a figure on rolling out such a programme across the country.

"Money has not been found for other programmes of this kind, due to councils forced to make cutbacks because of current lack of investment in this area," Mr Baker added.

"However, Labour would welcome such an investment in rehabilitating young offenders."

Bill Aitken, for the Conservtaives, said: "What works in diverting people from crime has to be followed through, but it takes more than warm words. Ministers have still not resolved the issues over the Airborne initiative, and it is time that this government turned rhetoric into reality."

Robert Brown, the Liberal Democrats' justice spokesman, said: "This sounds like an interesting project, but the Scottish Government needs to be careful before promising funding to roll it out across Scotland.

"There are plenty of other, similarly successful schemes deserving government support."


A TYPICAL day on one of the courses would be:

6:30am – rise, shower and clean up the barrack room.

7-7:30am – breakfast.

8am – room inspection.

9am – activities. May include fitness test, including running one and a half miles, press-ups, sit-ups and gym work.

After a shower the youngsters change into combats and carry out field work, including cooking a meal outside and setting up camp.

4pm – simulated range where the youngsters shoot at targets using laser guns, as well as team-building exercises.

5pm – evening meal.

6-7pm – talks organised by police on crime, drugs, road traffic problems, etc.

7-7:45pm – games

7:45-10pm – night reccies or watching DVDs.

10pm. – lights out.

'I can see lives changing – that is a great reward'

COLOUR Sergeant Kevin Forsyth has a first-hand view of Scotland's troubled youth.

Many of those who attend the army's youth camp have already had brushes with the law, and he is acutely aware that the five-day course can help to shape their future in a positive way.

"It gives them some direction, and if they are thinking of getting involved in crime or any kind of trouble it can put a stop to it," he said.

"It can also give them a feeling for what the army is about. It teaches them self-respect and self-discipline. I can see their lives changing, and that is a great reward, seeing that they have done something with their lives, and it means we have given something back to them.

The statistics show, he says, that there has been a drop in reoffending among those taking part in the courses.

He has also noticed youngsters changing their attitudes and behaviour during the course of a week.

"We don't know the kids until they come on the course, so we don't know what their home life is like or how they behave in their usual environment," he said. "But sometimes you can see them changing during the week. They get more confidence and they have made friends and you can see them coming out of their shells.

"There are some characters for whom it can take a lot longer to change, we cannot do that much within a week, but for many there is a noticeable difference.

"You see some coming in on day one looking unhappy and feeling very daunted, but by the end of the week they have a big smile on their face and are waving goodbye."

Colour Sgt Forsyth admitted the courses were originally used as a recruiting tool, but now were more geared towards helping youngsters who might drift into trouble.

Previous attempt felled by poor results


THE successful 'boot camp' near Inverness is not the first project of its kind to come to the attention of ministers.

In 2004, the Airborne Initiative came to public prominence. Dubbed the "last chance saloon", it was a nine-week outdoor course at Braidwood House in Lanarkshire for the most persistent of young offenders.

A critical television documentary called Chancers in 2004 showed young people absconding and taking drugs.

Soon afterwards, ministers pulled almost £600,000 of annual funding amid claims the project had failed to perform. Young people were instead turned back on to the street or sent to court.

Hugh Henry, the then deputy justice minister, said the decision to end funding for the Airborne initiative was taken in the light of "a body of evidence" collected from evaluation and inspection reports, and not just from one television programme.

But the decision to close Airborne triggered a storm of protest from experts and supporters of the unit, including the SNP.

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