LOCK CHILDREN up and throw away the key. That's New Labour's attitude to dealing with the 'causes of crime', and it has been criticised again this week. Even the government's own youth crime 'tsar' says under-18s awaiting trial, who have not been found guilty of anything, should not be banged up in Britain's overcrowded prisons.
The prison population surged when politicians and law lords urged longer sentences for trivial mobile phone thefts. The number of children in Britain's jails is at record levels, and will rise if home secretary David Blunkett gets his way. Blunkett claimed that he would wage war on teenage 'bail bandits'. His new Criminal Justice and Police Act, which comes into force this September, enables courts to lock up children as young as 12 for minor crimes like shoplifting.
Kathy Howard, head of social policy at the Children's Society, said, 'It's the government itself that has pushed child prison figures to record levels. 'They have an opportunity to reverse this by repealing the legislation.' Last week the Howard League for Penal Reform launched a legal challenge to the government's refusal to apply the 1989 Children Act to prisons. The league says this failure by New Labour means up to 3,000 teenagers are locked up in inhumane, appalling conditions.