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Justice Secretary accused of hypocrisy over boot camps for young offenders

JUSTICE Secretary Kenny MacAskill has been accused of hypocrisy for endorsing a "boot camp" scheme for young offenders similar to a pioneering project which was rejected by his party.

The Scottish Government is funding an army-led residential programme aimed at rehabilitating teenagers at risk of repeat offending.

Youngsters take part in outdoor physical activities and receive counselling in alcohol awareness, drug abuse and anti-social behaviour and police are also involved.

A similar scheme pioneered in Scotland – the Airborne Initiative – led to a 30% reduction in re-conviction rates for "high-tariff" offenders or those with multiple convictions.

However, it was closed in February 2004 by the Labour-LibDem coalition in Holyrood. The SNP promised to re-instate the scheme when it came to power but later abandoned this pledge when the party was elected to a minority government in 2007, citing the cost of the project.

The Scottish Government says it has committed a "modest" amount of funding – around £94,000 – to the latest initiative, Advantage Outreach, at Castlelaw Farm, Edinburgh.

However, those involved with the Airborne programme have questioned the move. Airborne was staffed by specialist social workers and outdoor-recreation experts. It took in hundreds of male criminals aged 18-25 between 1994 and 2004 before being wound up.

Following the demise of Airborne in Scotland, the project is currently being piloted with young offenders from Portland Prison in Dorset.

Tony Burley, Airborne's last general manager and a specialist in restorative justice, said: "I would question why the Government is doing this when they could have brought back an initiative which had been proven to work.

"We actively managed to reduce the reconviction rate from 80% to 50%. We were dealing with high-tariff offenders. These are lads who are almost certain that they will come out and re-offend."

Burley said that his highly experienced team were "put on the scrap heap", adding: "Our programme was quite expensive, however there is nothing comparable. There are other similar initiatives but they don't deal with high-tariff offending. I can only assume it was down to money.

"The amount of emails of support we received when the Airborne scheme went down was incredible."

The programme, praised for dramatically reducing rates of reoffending among participants, was closed after the then Scottish Executive, led by First Minister Jack McConnell, withdrew its £600,000-a-year funding.

There had been an outcry by residents in his Motherwell and Wishaw constituency after the scheme relocated from Abington in South Lanarkshire to Braidwood House ,near Carluke.

Opposition was strengthened following the broadcast of a BBC documentary called Chancers, which depicted unruly behaviour among young recruits on the scheme.

However, those involved in the scheme say the Abington community, in contrast, were hugely supportive of the project. The programme was replicated in Bermuda and South Africa.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "There are no plans to re-instate the Airborne Initiative. We are contributing £94,734 over two years to this project [Advantage Outreach] It is a relatively small initiative. It is part of a range of initiatives but it is something we believe young people can benefit from."

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Local government

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