By Paul Goodman
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- The vast majority of 15-17 year olds in Young Offender Institutions have at some point been excluded from school at some point.
- Half of those in this age group are assessed as having the literacy levels to that expected of a 7 -11 year old.
- A youth custodial place costs £100,000 per annum (indeed, as much as £200,000 in some cases).
- 73% of young offenders who leave custody reoffend within a
You can see where Chris Grayling's mind went when mulling over these facts, given the combination of social failure and Treasury pressure that they represent. So no wonder he has announced today that young offender institutions will be closed down and replaced with new secure colleges. The Mail's take on the scheme is that –
"The Justice Secretary will invite private schools to bid to run the new centres, which have been inspired by the Government’s free schools policy. It raises the prospect of schools such as Eton helping to put tearaways back on the straight and narrow."
Getting Eton into the story gives it an ingenious twist – I must try it more often myself – but the essence of the plan is that Grayling is aiming to deliver a better programme on a squeezed budget. "Providing education in a period of detention, rather than detention with education as an after-thought," as he puts it, will be difficult.
The pessimistic view is that the Work Programme, which the Justice Secretary had charge of before his promotion, is proving that "new expertise and providers" don't always square the magic circle of saving money and helping lives.
The optimistic view is that Michael Gove's free schools scheme, to which Grayling refers, provides a model to follow – and that, in any event, it's early days for the Work Programme. I wrote recently about the Justice Secretary's similar drive for probation reform.
Grayling's initiative is a reminder that our Young Offender Institutions contain some deeply damaged people – a grim Valetine's Day reflection. But however the Justice Secretary's plan turns out, he's right to say that “We cannot go on just doing more of the same".