Today in the UK there are 80,803 people locked up in our prisons.
Thousands of these - the exact number is difficult to establish - are children and young people.
The sheer number of youngsters is partly due to the fact that the age of criminal responsibility in the UK is just 10 years old. In the rest of Europe the age is from 12 to 15 years.
The average cost of keeping a young person locked up is £20,000 a year. To put this in context, this amount equates to the cost of boarding and educating two young people at England’s most expensive school - Eton.
The alternative to custody is to issue an Anti-social Behaviour Order better known by its acronym Asbo. This places them under a curfew and ensures their movements and activities are monitored. The problem here is that this form of punishment often is seen as a status symbol - not just by the offenders but sometimes by the parents too.
It is a sad fact that youngsters who have been locked up from a very young age are many times more likely to continue in a life of crime.
So what is the answer? I don’t know and I don’t think our Home Office knows either. Many years ago a problem young child would have received a clip round the ear or be marched home by the local policeman clinging on to his or her ear! Those days are sadly gone and we have to pay the consequences of a freer , more tolerant and litigious society.