THE BLOG

Secure Colleges Demonstrate Our Ambition to Do Better for Society and for Young People

09/12/2014 15:55 GMT | Updated 08/02/2015 10:59 GMT

No one, surely, would argue against equipping young people with the best possible education and skills to get on in life. That's why today, 800,000 more children are learning in good or outstanding schools and we have a record number of apprentices too.

But the reality is we also have a group of youngsters who risk being left behind for good if we don't change the status quo. Is the shadow spokesman really arguing to just consign this group to rattling round the justice system, committing offences time and again until they end up as adults behind bars?

There are fewer young people entering the criminal justice system. But of those that do, seven out of ten of them go on to re-offend. What is as stark as that statistic is the fact that over half of 15-17 year olds in the youth estate have literacy and numeracy levels at that expected of primary school children - as well as nearly a fifth of them having some sort of special education needs.

Often from chaotic backgrounds, broken homes and violent pasts, they are likely to have had disrupted education, and little that gives them much chance at all in a competitive jobs market, even without their offending histories.

We need to address all of that if we are to give them a chance at getting back onto a different path for a better future. Young people themselves have so often told me that this is what they want and know they need.

Secure Colleges will be an all-round package of education, vocational training, healthcare and support. They will draw on the expertise of the private and voluntary sectors to deliver the very best outcomes for these young people and be a far cry from traditional youth custodial environment of bars on windows.

The first Secure College will open in Leicestershire in 2017. It will hold up to 320 young people - equal in size to a very small secondary school and certainly much smaller than most - and will provide a better and broader range of facilities at a lower cost to the taxpayer. The suggested alternative of placing all young offenders in small secure homes would cost £100 million more each year with no evidence of better results.

Some of the concerns raised about safety are just plain scaremongering, not to mention incredibly irresponsible. Let me be clear, I want all young offenders to be able to benefit from the improved education, facilities and healthcare provision Secure Colleges will bring.

On top of this we're changing the culture of YOIs to put a greater focus on education and doubling the amount of time young offenders will spend in the classroom.

We should do this for young offenders because their time in custody is an incredibly important opportunity for us to help them turn their lives around. That means less crime, fewer victims of it, and sums up why Secure Colleges demonstrate our ambition to do better for society and for young people.

Andrew Selous is the minister for Prisons, Probation and Rehabilitation and Conservative MP for South West Bedfordshire