IT is probably a sign of old age but I enjoy reading about the past and particularly like newspapers’ nostalgia pages.

Last week I was astounded to read an article from 1938 about the teenager who stole fruit, chocolate, biscuits and lemonade from a warehouse and was sent to Borstal for a whole year! Borstal had a fearsome reputation for being tough – nothing like the lifestyle of today’s prisoners who seem to enjoy free gyms, TVs and computer games.

Compare that teenager’s punishment to today’s spineless reprimands. Now young people who plead guilty to a first offence are given a Referral Order of between three and 12 months. They (along with their parents) attend a Youth Offender Panel and a contract is agreed and signed, which can include programmes to address their behaviour and carrying out some form of community work.

The conviction is considered ‘spent’ once the contract has been completed and does not, therefore, give the young person a criminal record.

Or there are Reparation Orders which are designed to help young offenders understand the consequences of their crime and to take responsibility for their behaviour.

The young person will be asked to complete a specific number of ‘reparation’ hours; within a specified period. This might be helping with some sort of conservation work or removing graffiti in public areas.

While you might want to give young people the benefit of the doubt – there is a good chance they might be genuinely sorry and not reoffend – it’s when serious criminals are treated to community punishments when you really start to question what’s going on.

More astounding is some of the programmes used to rehabilitate criminals once they’re inside. Take a recent case of four Manchester men who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply cocaine and heroin. One of the four, Andrew Wilde, aged 53, since being remanded in prison for the offence, has been taking part in a birds of prey rehabilitation programme, raising a hawk from 14 weeks old. Apparently birds of prey are used to help inmates with ‘low self-esteem’ and increase their ‘sense of wellbeing’. I take it his self-esteem is now soaring!

Then there is cocaine ring member Richard Brookhouse who is serving 22 years. While on remand he started being allowed to go on day release from Kirkham Prison and spent several days at home.

Sounds cosy.

The Ministry of Justice believes that community sentences are cheaper and cut re-offending.

According to their Prison and Probation Trusts performance statistics, a category B prisoner can cost as much as £29,000 a year while a youth offender could cost £84,000 a year. In their 2012-13 figures it cost £17,697 to keep a prisoner in Risley in Warrington and in Appleton Thorn £27,191 a year.

I’m not sure how they get to those figures but it makes you realise why they’re keen on community orders rather than incarcerating people.