Worth a second look

FAR from fading away, as Hugh Henry, the deputy justice minister, must surely have hoped, the row over the closure of the Airborne Initiative for young offenders has grown in scale and volume.

Now, in a letter to The Scotsman today, 23 senior figures have launched a campaign and have appealed directly to Jack McConnell, the First Minister, asking him to save the project. Campaigners include some of the country’s leading experts in the field of criminal justice, from Lord Prosser, a retired High Court judge, to Sir David Ramsbotham, the former chief inspector of the prison service in England and Wales.

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Airborne certainly has some questions to answer over how it was bearing down on the numbers of those absconding. But the sudden withdrawal of funding is Draconian. It looks even more questionable in the light of the First Minister’s stated policies of cracking down on crime while encouraging a culture in which offenders are brought face to face with the consequences of their actions and given encouragement and opportunity to change their lives.

Airborne is a tougher and much more spartan version of the official and hugely respected Outward Bound programme. While this operates in quite different circumstances and is addressed to young people coming into adulthood, it is driven by similar concerns: to present young people with challenges and, through these, to develop positive outcomes by greater self awareness and self discovery. Its widely admired programme of activities has commanded wide and substantial support, and one of its strongest advocates is North Lanarkshire Council.

Airborne applies similar principles to a troubled and problematic group of offenders. It is hardly surprising that it has had to deal with drug-taking and behavioural problems. These demand professional care and time to address. At the same time, Airborne is not meant to be a soft option. Given the bleak alternative on offer, Mr McConnell should not be afraid to reconsider and keep Airborne going pending further review.