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Six-year-old offenders will be sent to boot camps

By Marie Woolf

Shoplifters, joy-riders and tearaways as young as six are to be sent to military training camps under a government attempt to instil discipline in disruptive children, with those succeeding winning a place with a military cadet force.

Young offenders who commit crimes such as burglary, car theft or shoplifting will be sent to the camps as part of their sentence where they will be subjected to a gruelling regime which teaches punctuality, respect and physical fitness.

The programme, designed by the Youth Justice Board and Ministry of Defence, will also be tailored to primary-school children showing early signs of aggressive or disruptive behaviour. Those who successfully complete the military programmes will not only win a certificate but automatic referral to a cadet force. The Army has a recruitment drive aimed at young people from all backgrounds.

The children will learn to obey orders and meet strict standards of discipline, cleanliness and fitness, as well as having access to Army assault courses and adventure activities. The scheme, expected to be rolled out across England and Wales after pilot trials, is similar to America's "boot camps" for disruptive children.

In the past month, joint projects have been established between youth-offending teams and the Devonshire and Dorset Regiment, RAF Halton, and the Royal Navy's Sea Cadet Corps. They are expected to begin within months.

Children aged between six and 12, identified by youth justice teams as at risk of offending, will be offered a programme likely to include camping and survival skills; teenagers will be offered more demanding programmes such as running assault courses, learning drills, and exercise.

The MoD has been brought in to try to divert delinquent young people from a life of crime with tough training programmes that could lead to a boost in military recruitment. The ministry has a new youth policy unit working with the youth justice board to use military structures and skills.

A spokeswoman for the youth justice board said the move was also designed to "improve the potential for recruitment into the Armed Forces". She added: "The intention is to work in partnership to achieve community engagement.

"From the MoD's point of view, they can improve the lives of children and the communities in which they live, while benefiting from gaining a positive image in these communities and in doing so, improve the potential for recruitment to the Armed Forces.

"The partnership allows the YJB and youth-offending teams to utilise the resources available in the Armed Forces to enhance their work in preventing youth-offending and re-offending."

But some civil liberties groups are wary. "We would certainly welcome any attempt to rehabilitate youngsters and it may be that a stint in the Army may be a good thing," Barry Hugill of Liberty said. "But I hope recruitment to the Army is not going to be based on the notion that we will take any former offender."

The projects, a mixture of residential and daily courses, will include work to increase the self-esteem of youngsters and help them develop team-working and leadership skills. The first young people will start the courses early next year. Experts from the youth justice board are drawing up programmes to address offending behaviour, tailored to specific offences. The organisers hope the youngsters will "develop long-term links with the military to help them stay away from crime".

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