Are cold showers and route marches the answer for our badly behaved boys?

This week the Chief Inspector of Prisons said that Thorn Cross Young Offenders Centre, the nearest we have to a boot camp, has proved a success. So is hard physical exercise the answer? Yes, says Lynette Burrows; the ‘caring’ approach has damaged our children. Not true, says Paul Cavadino; education and work are the only solutions.

Discipline from adults protects young men from dangerous forces, says Lynette Burrows.

The authorities do not know what to do with badly behaved boys. The rot starts in primary schools where increased levels of violence and disruption are routinely reported and it continues in secondary schools, which now exclude thousands of boys every year. Neighbourhoods are terrorised and ambulances and fire engines stoned by mobs of children who, only a few short years ago, would have had a healthy fear of adult reprisals if they dared to do such things.

When our liberal intelligentsia first suggested more than a decade ago that corporal punishment was counter-productive and that schools and neighbourhoods would become more civilised places if the law forbade it, few people believed them. But adults everywhere had, probably for the first time in human history, to pretend that unruly boys could be controlled by warm smiles and the impassioned nag.

As a result, power has passed from respectable adults to the leaders of the jungle. Children and young people are not now uniquely free from fear or pain in school or neighbourhood, it is just that the people who administer it, and the reasons for which it is dished out are entirely lawless. The “respect” that is such a novel feature of the culture of school and neighbourhood is accorded to the biggest, strongest and most brutal leaders of the pack. Nobody can save individual children from being beaten and bullied. They are beyond respectable adult help.

The unhampered apprenticeship in delinquency costs the country £190 million a year. The end result is that once the boys are old enough to be sent to a young offenders institution, their lives are ruined, their prospects permanently blighted and they cost a further £2,300 per year to keep locked up. Nice one, liberals!

Now, however, there is a tiny beacon of hope. A Chief Inspector of Prisons has praised an institution that imposed some sort of effective discipline upon young men, made them work hard, keep clean, show respect, confront their crimes. However, it is only able to impose the discipline that has proved so beneficial because the young men are prisoners. The achievement would be to oblige them to follow those same rules unencumbered by an invisible ball and chain. How much better if they’d never been allowed to get in that state in the first place; how infinitely better if national service took the place of prison.