Executive must think again over Airborne

We write as supporters of the Airborne Initiative to express dismay at the Scottish Executive’s decision to withdraw funding from this ground-breaking, successful project.

Airborne’s client group is the most challenging faced by any non-custodial disposal. At least 80 per cent of incoming trainees have served sentences in prison, yet, over the past nine years, Airborne has made a huge impact in reducing the rate of reoffending. During that time, 290 high-tariff male offenders, aged 18-25, have completed the demanding Airborne course, which involves the learning of life skills, the development of employment potential and focused outdoor challenges. As a result, the rate of re-conviction for trainees completing the programme over the past five years reduced by 50 per cent within two years of them completing the course.

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The decision means that the organisation will have to wind up its activities at Braidwood in Lanarkshire. It also means the end of a unique and successful approach to challenging offending behaviour in young criminals who would normally face a custodial sentence. No other national probation project in Scotland deals with more persistent or higher tariff young offenders.

As a result of this decision - which seems not to have been thought through by the justice minister and her colleagues - a valuable experiment will be lost, and its work is in danger of being wasted. Scotland has one of the biggest prison communities per head of population in Europe and most come from the client group served by Airborne. Is this what a civilised country wants at the beginning of the 21st century? The Executive claims that Airborne is too expensive and its success rate too low, but it is impossible to quantify the value to society of an attempt to save young people from a permanent life of crime. Take away the statistics which can be manipulated to prove any point: at its most basic, Airborne refuses to accept that it is impossible to change the most negative aspects of human behaviour. In doing so, it brings out the best in young men who would otherwise be condemned to a lifetime in prison. Surely that is worth saving; surely the Executive is big enough to change its mind and reconsider its decision to close down an operation which worked for the benefit of the whole country.

RT HON BARONESS LINKLATER OF BUTTERSTONE; RT HON LORD MACFARLANE OF BEARSDEN; RT HON LORD PROSSER, former Senator of the College of Justice in Scotland and Lord of Session; RT HON LORD SANDERSON OF BOWDEN, chairman, Clydesdale Bank; GENERAL SIR DAVID RAMSBOTHAM, former HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, England and Wales; RT REV RICHARD HOLLOWAY, former Bishop of Edinburgh; PROF SHEILA BIRD, visiting professor, University of Strathclyde; JEREMY BURNET, Scottish Business Achievement Award Trust; CAMPBELL CHRISTIE, convener, Scottish Civic Forum; ALAN CURTIS, founder, Airborne Initiative; REV NORMAN DRUMMOND, chair, Lloyds TSB Foundation Scotland; CLIVE FAIRWEATHER, former HM Chief Inspector of Prisons for Scotland; DONALD HARDIE, Imlay Foundation; HILARY KENNEDY, educational psychologist; MAGNUS LINKLATER, former chair, Scottish Arts Council; DR NANCY LOUCKS, criminologist; ROBIN MACEWEN, Director of Howard League for Penal Reform, Scotland; IAN RANKIN, author; NIGEL RAPPORT, Professor of Anthropological and Philosophical Studies, University of St Andrews; PROF ALAN RUTHERFORD, co-founder, Airborne Initiative; JOHN SCOTT, chair, Scottish Human Rights Centre; DR ALEXANDRA SHARNOCK GREEN, anthropologist; DR JACKIE TOMBS, Scottish Consortium on Crime and Criminal Justice;