Wally Harbert, Philip Hewitt, Heather Geddes and Jeanne Downton respond to an article asking why so many young people are being locked up in England

Chris Daw shows how young offenders are brutalised by the criminal justice system (The long read: ‘A stain on national life’: why are we locking up so many children?, 23 July). In the 1970s, many staff were appointed to children’s homes because of their army experience. When violence erupted, staff commonly struck the first blow.

As the responsible minister, the late David Ennals sought to change this, but was thwarted by Mrs Thatcher’s climb to power in 1979. Plans to develop staff training, improve care regimes and develop child assessment services were abandoned. The new priorities were to create harsher regimes and build more secure accommodation. By advocating what they called “short, sharp shocks” to children failed by the system, politicians believed they would promote better behaviour. The reverse was true.

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