MFrom ore A century ago, a prison in Borstal, Kent secured wings for the youngest prisoner. Teens were plagued by old lag, but authorities wanted special treatments to help set them up correctly. As Evelyn Ruggles-Brise of the Prison Commision states, education and movement will save “young villains” from “habitual criminal careers.”
Today, reformers are on a different path. Next year, the first “Secure School” will open down the road from Borstal Prison. The purpose is to dismantle the violent detention centers that most children end up in and reduce recidivism. The government pledges that “education and health” is at the heart of the new facility.
Over the last decade, the number of people under the age of 18 behind bars in England and Wales has declined by two-thirds (see graph). However, the situation is exacerbated because prisons currently contain only the most problematic youth. The number of cases in which prisoners had to be detained increased by 54% in the five years before the pandemic. Self-harm has doubled.
According to a 2016 government report, half of the 15-17 year olds in prison do not have the average reading comprehension of 11 years or older. It recommended moving young people to a new institution run by a charity that currently manages most of the UK’s secondary schools. Over time, its purpose is to create such a safe school sufficient to accommodate the majority of child prisoners.
Oasis, a charity that runs 53 schools, was chosen to establish the first school. Costume founder Steve Chalk claims that “it’s not just a detention center of another name.” The school employs young workers rather than security guards and has a “bedroom” rather than a prison cell. Volunteers engage in activities during downtime, such as sessions in art and recording studios. The facility accommodates up to 49 children.
The smaller the facility, the easier it should be to bring young people closer to their families and launch a local program to reintegrate them upon liberation. In recent years, the government has closed many detention centers that no longer hold many prisoners. That is, children are often sent to facilities far from home. Two-thirds violate the law within a year of their release.
Not everyone is optimistic. The school uses premises vacated by a prison arrested on suspicion of assaulting staff. Francis Crook of the Howard League, a charity, suspects that such a building could create a kinder form of custody.
The government needs to change the law on the status of charities in order to explicitly allow charities to operate prisons. This is one of the reasons for the delay in opening the school scheduled for fall last year. In February, the House of Commons Commission said slow progress did not stimulate confidence in arriving soon.
The number of child prisoners can be further reduced. More than 30% have been remanded, and two-thirds do not end up in custodial sentence when their case is brought to justice. However, lobby group John Drew of the Prison Reform Trust still finds it worthwhile to find out if educational charities can bring a “different spirit” to youth detention if unavoidable. As Ruggles-Brise said, young Ruffian is more suitable. ■■
This article was published in the UK section of the print version under the heading “Chained to the desk”.
British government is turning children’s prisons into schools
Source link British government is turning children’s prisons into schools