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The Government's plan to build a 'secure college' in Leicestershire to help educate young offenders will differ in no meaningful way to a prison, a leading reform charity has warned.
The £85 million facility, which will be run by a headteacher or principal rather than a prison governor, will have space for 320 pupils aged between 12 and 17-years-old.
Mark Gettleson, from the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: "The details are very unclear. From what I can tell it is a prison. It is going to differ in no meaningful way from a prison."
The spokesman said if the Government wanted to improve the education and opportunities of young offenders, they must first tackle the welfare issues that led to the criminal offence before "shoehorning" young people into education.
Young offenders "are almost invariably" teenagers who have failed academically, lack basic skills and are "ill equipped" to move on from custody into work, the justice minister told Daybreak.
Chris Grayling dismissed accusations from the Howard League for Penal Reform that their planned "secure college" would be too big to successfully rehabilitate reoffenders.
"My view that if we don't make education a much more central part of the way we detain young people, we're not going to help them turn their lives around."
Young offenders benefit much more from "small, local, intensively staffed units", than "over-large institutions", a prison reformer has said.
Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, was speaking after the Government announced plans for a £85m "secure college" for 320 offenders under the age of 18.
The Deputy Prime Minister emphasised his focus on rehabilitation for young offenders by announcing further funding for measures designed to tackle youth crime.
Nick Clegg said those who are imprisoned for a crime under the age of 18 needed to be taught "how to do something else" and wanted to avoid turning prisons into "colleges of crime".
"Some young offenders spend less than one school day a week in the classroom.
"By increasing the amount of time young offenders spend learning, we can help them to move away from crime, take responsibility for their actions, and rebuild their lives."
- There were 1,323 young people behind bars in England and Wales in November 2013
- This had fallen from from 2,600 in March 2009
- Only 6.3% of young offenders received a custodial sentence in the 12 months before June 2013
- For the 12 months ending December 2011, the most recent period for which figures are available, 71% of young offenders re-offended within a year of leaving custody, compared to 46% of adults leaving custody.
An £85 million "secure college" is to be built as part of Government plans to improve education for those under the age of 18 who are convicted of a crime.
Up to 320 young offenders aged between 12 and 17-years-old will be housed in the Leicestershire building, which is expected to open in 2017.
The facility will be run by a head teacher or principal rather than a prison governor, backed up by a team of education professionals who will care for inmates housed on the site in living blocks.
Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said: "Nearly three-quarters of young offenders who leave custody re-offend within a year; clearly the system as it is at the moment isn't working.
"It's right that the most serious or persistent young offenders face custody but we must use this time to tackle the root cause of their offending and give them the skills and self-discipline they need to gain employment or training upon release."