Youths in 'college of crime' jails
Locking up older teenagers in adult jails with nothing to do is the "surest way to create the hardened criminals of tomorrow", campaigners have said.
The Government should focus on a neglected group of older teenagers who need considerable help to get out of trouble rather than simply putting them behind bars in jails which act as "colleges of crime", the Prison Reform Trust said.
It comes after Nick Hardwick, the chief inspector of prisons, warned last year that young men in prison were "sleeping through their sentences".
Young offenders aged between 18 and 25 make up a tenth of the population, but a third of those sent to prison each year, the group's report on young adults in the criminal justice system said.
Juliet Lyon, the trust's director, said: "Locking up impressionable 18 and 19-year-olds in adult jails with nothing to do is the surest way to create the hardened criminals of tomorrow.
"For many young people, intensive community approaches that nip offending behaviour in the bud are more effective than a prison sentence in helping them take responsibility and grow out of trouble."
Cross-bench peer Lord Adobawale called for alternatives to prison - intensive community sentences such as those piloted in Greater Manchester and West Yorkshire - to be rolled out. The Greater Manchester scheme, which focused on 18 to 24-year-olds, achieved "very good compliance rates and early indications are that it is successful in reducing reoffending rates", the report said.
Its programmes, which cost around £5,000 per year compared with about £50,000 for a prison place for a young offender, are tailored to suit each offender, with intensive supervision, 30 hours per week of activity, unpaid work and a curfew. By the end of last March, 539 of the 1,851 sentenced to the scheme had successfully completed it, with 672 still serving their orders.
A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said: "The level of reoffending is too high which is why we are working to make punishments more rigorous and rehabilitation more effective. Prisons should be places of industry and community sentences must be credible and robust."
She continued: "We have introduced payment by results, where providers will be paid for their success at rehabilitating offenders and reducing reoffending. Criminals must be reformed so that when they finish their sentences they do not simply return to crime, creating more misery for victims."