'Secure college' plans in Leicestershire approved
Plans to build the first "secure college" for young criminals in England and Wales have been approved.
Ministers said the college, set to open in Leicestershire in 2017, would house 320 young offenders and double the time they spent in education.
The Howard League for Penal Reform said it would prefer to see "smaller, local secure units" being built.
The local planning authority, Blaby District Council, passed plans for the £85m scheme on Thursday.
However, a new bill setting up the secure colleges is still being debated in the House of Lords and must be approved before the project can go ahead.
Young offenders are currently sent to either a secure training centre or a young offenders institution, depending on their age and offences.
They spend an average of 12 hours a week in education while in detention - but the new college would double that, officials have said.
The secure centre will be built on a site owned by the government alongside Glen Parva Young Offenders Institution and it will predominantly house people from the East Midlands or east of England.
Prisons Minister Andrew Selous said the unit would give vital skills and qualifications to young offenders.
He said: "It will be the equivalent of a small secondary school."
He said the current system was spending £100,000 a year for each young offender and "not getting very good results".
Howard League spokesman Andrew Nielson said the number of young offenders in England and Wales had fallen to 1,000 since the plan was first proposed.
"Effectively a third of those children will be housed in this one institution, often hundreds of miles away from their families, and we don't think that is the right approach," he said.
Councillor Geoff Welsh, who represents residents in Glen Parva but does not sit on the planning committee, told the Leicester Mercury he had no reservations on planning grounds, but did share some of the views expressed by the Howard League.