Wednesday, 7 January 2015


This Thursday sees the screening of the first episode of ITV's four-part re-enactment series 'Bring Back Borstal' and the Daily Mail can barely contain itself, such is their excitement:-
Bring back Borstal! In a new TV experiment, young offenders are incarcerated under the draconian conditions of a 1930s borstal and the results are astonishing
PlayStations, televisions, central heating and fast food: the teenage criminals who spend 22 hours a day cooped up in their cells at young offenders’ institutions have got it too easy, according to leading criminologist and former prison governor Professor David Wilson. And the experience does no good, either to them or to the rest of us.
Within two years of release, 80 per cent of young criminals are back in court, having learned nothing from their punishment. Professor Wilson believes that is the fault of the system, not the youngsters. He says prison and youth custody are about warehousing people, not rehabilitating them. And he’s got some surprisingly stringent solutions – along with some extraordinary statistics to back them up.
In the 1930s, teenage delinquents were subjected to the austere regime of borstal – a sort of compulsory boarding school for young tearaways. They slept in cold dormitories, rose at 6am for morning runs and icy showers, scrubbed floors and studied. And if they swore, blasphemed or answered back, that regime could get a great deal harsher.

But the results were startling. Seven out of ten young offenders never broke the law again after a spell of pre-war borstal. This wasn’t simply because the punishment was a deterrent – their life behind bars taught the boys discipline, respect for authority and, ultimately, respect for themselves.
Professor Wilson believes that system can still work. And to prove it, he has recreated a 1930s borstal at a remote Northumberland castle and dragooned a busload of young thugs, drug dealers and thieves to test it out. The results, revealed in a new documentary series, Bring Back Borstal, makes emotional and often wryly entertaining viewing.
All the young men involved volunteered for the four-week course, but they had no idea what they were getting themselves into. Their first taste of the 30s came before they even arrived at borstal, when they were handed their uniforms – grey jackets and short trousers, with long woollen socks.
It would seem as good a time as any to look at this early experiment that sought to rehabilitate young offenders, rather than just punish them. This from wikipedia:-
The Gladstone Committee (1895) first proposed the concept of the borstal, wishing to separate youths from older convicts in adult prisons. It was the task of Sir Evelyn Ruggles-Brise (1857–1935), a prison commissioner, to introduce the system, and the first such institution was established at Borstal Prison in a village called Borstal, near Rochester, Kent, England in 1902. The system was developed on a national basis and formalised in the Prevention of Crime Act 1908.
The regimen in these institutions was designed to be "educational rather than punitive", but it was highly regulated, with a focus on routine, discipline and authority. Borstal institutions were designed to offer education, regular work and discipline, though one commentator has claimed that "more often than not they were breeding grounds for bullies and psychopaths." Some uncorroborated anecdotal evidence exists of unofficial brutality, both by staff towards the inmates and between inmates – though possibly no more than is the case for the prison system as a whole. In the 1930s, the borstal system produced a re-offending rate of around 30%, as opposed to a modern (2014) youth re-offending rate of at least 75%.
The Criminal Justice Act 1982 abolished the borstal system in the UK, introducing youth custody centres instead.
Not surprisingly, it's 'tough' image holds a certain attraction to those on the political right, as admirably demonstrated in this Daily Mail piece in the aftermath of the London riots in 2011:-
'Bring back borstal for young rioters' says Boris in tough new call to isolate troublemakers from their peers
Rioters and looting youngsters should be sent to tough special schools which give unruly children lessons in behaviour, Boris Johnson insisted today. The London Mayor said courts should be able to send those aged 11 to 15 convicted of being involved in disturbances to pupil referral units (PRUs) - a power only available to headteachers. In a letter to Justice Secretary Ken Clarke, Mr Johnson said removing the difficult children from the comfort of their school would 'hit home'.

He said: 'It would isolate them from their peer group during the school day, preventing bragging rights on school premises, and sends a salutary warning to other pupils that such behaviour will result in temporary ejection from the school community. 'Referring them to a PRU puts them in a unit where teachers are already skilled in addressing unacceptable behaviour but at the same time ensures that their education is continued.'
Dubbed '21st century borstals', trained staff at the PRUs - also known as 'short stay schools' host children who have been expelled.
Apart from the Daily Mail, I have no idea who else would dub PRU's '21st century borstals', but here they are having a rather more reflective look at the subject in 2012:-
Brutal exercise, hard work and strict education - topped off with a bit of musical theatre: The days Borstals knocked yobs into shape
Where else would you spend the morning scrubbing floors and praying in church, the afternoon laying bricks in the driving rain, and the evening agonising over stage directions for an all-male Gilbert and Sullivan operetta?
Borstals were introduced in Britain in 1902. The template was public boarding schools (with very secure locks) and the theory was that if delinquent youths (aged 16 to 21) were subjected to a similar regime of brutal exercise, house masters, dorms, endless lessons and the strict regime of the house system, they’d develop self-discipline and a sense of pride, and turn their backs on crime in a flash.

Borstals were more about training, correction and developing employability, and less about punishment. For many boys, there was more on offer than at home — three square meals a day and physical, mental and religious discipline. Upon their release, they were given help with lodgings, jobs and funding, and reoffending rates were low.
It wasn’t just boys. Girls (housed in separate all-women Borstals) were taught to cook, sew, iron and clean, and learned basic farming skills, flower arranging and nursing. They let off steam with netball matches, group exercise classes, dancing and ping-pong.
Borstal training was not an unqualified success. Bullying among the boys was rife. Housemasters at Rochester Borstal were constantly combing the local Medway valley for absconders — in the early 1940s there were more than 100 escapees a year. Which is little surprise, because although many of the youths had committed only lesser offences — petty theft, minor assault — and ‘training sentences’ were indeterminate, stretching anything up to five years, until they were deemed ‘corrected’. But most youths did emerge fit, able and, thanks to the skills training, ready and eager to work.
Even before the first episode has aired, it's proving highly controversial. This from Rob Allen:- 
This sort of fundamental misunderstanding must be a risk in Professor David Wilson’s television project Bring Back Borstal which starts on primetime ITV next week. I was surprised to read in the Daily Mail that the former vice chair of the Howard League believes cold dormitories, icy showers and scrubbing floors can rehabilitate young offenders better than today’s soft young offender institutions. We’ll have to wait until Thursday to see if that really is his view. But presumably by going to the effort of recreating a 1930’s institution and recruiting troubled young men to experience its regime for a month, he believes at least that there may be something to learn. While I will reserve judgment until I've seen the first episode at least, I have serious doubts about whether there’s anything that we can or should apply from such a bygone era.

For one thing, there’s a question about how successful borstals actually were in rehabilitating young offenders. A leading study of the system reported in 1973 that “during the 1930's Borstals appear to have enjoyed outstanding success, rehabilitating a claimed 70% of trainees”. But the claim of "phenomenal" results is not referenced, other than to figures from the Borstal Association - an organisation providing after care support to those released from the institution - not perhaps the most objective source of data .

Even if re-conviction rates were comparatively low, they may well be the result of selection effects. Borstal training was always one of several custodial sentencing options designed for those individuals deemed most likely to respond to the training on offer. Comparing the success rate to the 70% failure rate in today’s institutions which take allcomers, is looking at apples and oranges.

It’s also true that re-offending rates among borstal leavers increased substantially between the 1930’s and 1970’s, in large part because, according to the 1973 study of a “deterioration in the quality of boys”. This unhappy phrase alerts us to the fact that the very welcome decline in the use of custody for young men in recent years has meant that those who do continue to be locked up present many more challenges than the borstal boys of yesteryear. Levels of drug and alcohol misuse, mental health difficulties, and gang affiliations make the idea of reinstating dormitory accommodation in young offender establishments irresponsible if not dangerous. A much more realistic set of recommendations are found in Barrow Cadbury's 2013 report.

But the bigger problem is that programmes like this give succour to those who want to roll back the clock to a purported golden age where simple virtues of exercise, hard work and strict education could allegedly knock yobs into shape. It’s a dangerous fantasy – or as the Guardian TV guide puts it - punishment porn. This would be bad enough in itself, but with the government on the verge of creating a so called secure college which almost every expert thinks a disaster in the making, it could have a highly damaging impact in the real world.
According to the Mirror, all does not go to plan:-
A third of ITV's Borstal youngsters QUIT in first week of programme
It was never billed as a holiday camp, but when ITV bosses recreated 1930s Borstal conditions for a month-long “social experiment” series they didn’t expect a third of the participants to quit in the first week. Fourteen youngsters signed up to take part in the four-part series, half of whom had previous criminal convictions. But one of the boys had pulled out before filming even began and four more quit during the opening hour-long instalment – with the first not even making it to lunchtime on day one.
The programme’s aim is to discover whether the hard work, education and exercise regime used in Borstal to help the inmates improve themselves would be beneficial to today’s troublemakers. The experiment is run by Professor David Wilson, one of the UK’s leading criminologists, who takes the role of governor to discover whether old-fashioned tactics could break modern cycles of bad behaviour.
“I’m taking part because seven out of ten young people who went through Borstal in the 1930s never committed crime again after their release,” he explains. Today’s statistics are in stark contract, with three quarters of those released from prison going on to re-offend within 12 months. 
“This is a tough regime,” he adds. “We are not locking up these young men and allowing them to sit in their cells watching television or playing Playstation. We’re saying that being active on the sports field, or in the classroom, or at work, will ultimately help them have a better stake in the community when they return.”
Bring Back Borstal ITV Thursday 9pm


  1. Bloody nonsense masquerading as 'science'. This populist crap has NOTHING to offer serious criminology or penology. I will NOT be watching.


    1. Mr Justice Irwins judgment in Napo v SoS - tried to understand it, but is there someone brighter than me who can explain the key points and put it into concise, plain English please? Thanks.

    2. Hi Jim,
      Have had a quick read and as far as I can see, this is a transcript of what was said in court before NAPO actually pulled out of the process, rather than a result per se. J Irwin directs for the release of testgate 4 and 5, but rejects requests for subsidiary documents, or those that summarise perhaps bits of testgate 4 and 5. He agrees to the request for quantifiable evidence (such as number of PO vacancies and IT related data) and is less minded for the release of anecdotal evidence, which he feels wont add to the hearing. He doesnt seem to agree with the SoS position that NAPO is politically driven or the notion of commercial confidentiality but also says that even if it is there is provision within what he terms a 'confidentiality ring' for full and frank discussion (am presuming this refers to the info that NAPO are not able to now disclose). The SoS requests to appeal against costs (?) request denied.
      Please correct me someone if I've misread anything.

  3. Having served a Borstal term in the late 70s, I attest that Borstal followed DC, which in itself was the next step after care.
    It was a brutal place where the only real thing you learned was resentment.
    6months to 2 years was the term given, and 16 months was the average time spent there.
    Most people leaving Borstal went on to reoffend, so for me its about punishment only, and has nothing to do with reducing crime.
    TV can not show the real mechanics of Borstal daily life, it was far too brutal.
    Neither is their many working in the CJS now that have much knowledge of what it was all about (its gone over 30 years ago) so putting a show together will be based on perceptin if a concept rather then reality.
    The sad thing is the public will view it as another reality show (we're getting closer to the running man all the time), and will act as a buffer for Graylings secure collage for children(borstal my any count anyway).
    I will watch it, but I find programmes like this very disturbing.

    1. By the 1980's the standard time served was 9 months with 28 days added or subtracted to mark good or bad cooperation with the regime. Few served more than 10 or 11 months - many went back on recall for an extra 4 months.

      Few were released earlier than 8 months. Home leave and weekend 'town visits' were an important part of the process as was the one to one relationship with the after care probation officer.

      I worked as part of the Merseyside Probation Service's neighbourhood Borstal Team attached to Hindley from March 1981 to August 1982. It would have been longer but in about May or June 1982 the Home Secretary announced Borstals would close in (I think April 1983) and the neighbourhood Borstal experimental programmes would not continue into the new YOI regime. I immediately started looking for another job and took the first offered that was suitable.

      David Wilson is an academic who 'escaped' from being a prison governor or deputy amidst publicity - the details of which I cannot now recall - he is something of a 'media friendly' person who has the skills to handle broadcasting. Lets hope at least there is an opportunity to get a public debate going - though clearly what is proposed is very unrealistic, in that they are volunteers and not under a Crown Court sentence as an alternative to either a 3 year prison sentence or a Community Service or Probation Order or 6 month prison sentence (at least those aged over 17). By 1982 the minimum age for a Borstal Training sentence was (I am almost certain) 15 years - many who were aged under 17, the certain age for Probation as opposed to Local Authority Social Worker engagement for a newly sentenced person, had in my experience a strong recommendation to the sentencing judge by the LA social worker's report for a "period of controlled discipline" - or such similar euphemism because the Local Authorities Resources were exhausted and a Borstal Sentence was paid for by the Home Office not the local council. It was at a time of stringent local authority financial cutbacks - especially in places like Liverpool where I worked and the City Council was in open revolt with central Government - matters coming to a head around 1981 when riots broke out locally on about as large a scale as those that started in Tottenham in 2011.

    2. Andrew, I disagree and I think you are wrong.
      You knew by which Borstal you were allocated to, how much time you likley to serve.
      Unless you went to an 'open' Borstal you served 16months.
      I served my Borstal time at Wellenbourough, and other Borstals such as Dover, Portland (closed), all had 16 month custodial periods.
      Open Borstals, Hule grange,Hollensey bay ect, served approx 9 months,( Feltham was always psychiatric, and I'm not sure about how their time was worked out).
      If you went to a closed Borstal, your time was 16months. I know. I did it!

    3. I was at Borstal in the 60s, comment on programme, cannot recognise anything. Firstly you could not walk out,, secondly the screws would not taken any of the behaviour shown here, you would have been given a kicking. I saw some extremely tough lads put down. Thirdly there was the lads themselves, the daddies would have metered out kickings if it was going to effect house privledges. The sanitised programme is just more cheap, unrealistic tv.

    4. I couldn't agree more, I too was in Borstal in the 60s (ROCHESTER) and I f you spoke to the screws as is shown on this unrealistic tv rubbish you would have had the living s--t kicked out of you and that would be just for not calling them Sir !! , it was brutal and savage, but you had a choice..don't go back if you don't like it ! I didn't like it and never went back .

    5. 6 months to two years.
      Average 38 weeks.

      Only way you did 16 months would be to lose 7 months.

      To lose that much you must have been fighting, barricading your pad,or assaulting screws.
      Refusing direct orders etc.
      And spending a lot of time down the block on report.

      And we know you didn't don't lie, its been proved by the guy who dealt with the lads in hindley.

      And I did borstal lowdham grange and everthorpe.
      And I can tell by the way you write about it you didn't.

    6. 16 months haha full of SHITE.
      put your name to your claim.
      Better still put your number on here
      Then we will see. X

  4. I find the need for an academic such as Professor Wilson to be involved in such programmes concerning. I will not be watching and wonder what this programme will achieve other than feeding false impressions of young offenders and pandering to the right wing flog 'em approach.

  5. There is always an academic willing to pin their colours to amy cause. Like the US doctor who thinks that 'gravely sick people have a duty to die', academic qualifications are no indicator of credibility, particularly where reality TV is concerned.

  6. Reminded me of the film Scum, which tells the story of a young offender named Carlin as he arrives at the institution and his rise through violence and self-protection to the top of the inmates' pecking order, purely as a tool to survive. Beyond Carlin's individual storyline, it is also cast as an indictment of the borstal system's flaws with no attempt at rehabilitation. The warders and convicts alike are brutalised by the system. The film's controversy was derived from its graphic depiction of racism, extreme violence, rape, suicide, many fights and very strong language. (Wikipedia).

    I have held doubts about David Wilson, the so-called criminologist, for some time. He is a populist and contoversialist with a sideline in rent-a-quotes and is always on hand when the Daily Mail wants a feature. 'Punishment Porn' captures these shenanigans aptly. Maybe after the borstal reconstruction we can refill out popcorn buckets and settle down to watch a four-parter on Abu Grabid.

    1. Netnipper,

      Yes Rob Allen makes a fascinating reference to the film 'Scum' at the beginning of his blog post, but left out from my quote. Apparently he showed it to a group of young lads as part of an Intermediate Treatment programme - remember that?! - and almost immediately regretted doing so lol.

    2. I do remember IT, resource intensive and under resourced and so available to only a few who might benefit, perhaps coming too late in a criminal career, that involved straight forward supervision orders, delivered, depending on local arrangements about age, by either the LA or PS and sometimes a combination, or a Care Order, or a secure Care Order - many in Liverpool had been sentenced to a Care Order but were then placed at home due to a lack of resources and an awareness that residential care achieved little for most young people (I am taking about the 1970s) - residential staff were poorly paid and poorly trained &, as we are more lately learning, there was significant sexual abuse of some residents

  7. Probation Officer7 January 2015 at 13:41

    Slightly off topic. How about a post on Ched Evans now that he's about to sign for Oldham. There's various aspects here, firstly that the increasing trial by social media which is dictating the future of convicted offenders is very worrying. Politicians, inc the PM, have jumped on the bandwagon showing two-fingers to so called impartiality and calling for him not to be signed. Once again Napo (and the probation institute) have missed a trick as should have been the "expert opinion" on the issue rather than leaving this to PCC's and the Daily Mail.

    My opinion, he's done his time and should be able to return to his profession. He'll unlikely ever play at his previous level or for his national team. Those trying to invoke an imaginary clause that footballers must be of good behaviour as are role models should canvass the amount of bad behaviour by footballers in generally, or even take into account recent sexual allegations against politicians, Prince Andrew, etc. What about all the other boxers, sportsmen, musicians, politicians, etc with convictions, many which continue their careers, write a book, etc?

    Employment is key in going straight for a multitude of reasons, as is giving people a chance. Fergus McNeill calls the latter the 'collective social responsibility' of the community to accept and support those that gave served their time and are trying to make amends. A person does not have to accept guilt to move on with their life and never reoffend, and I'm shocked really that politicians and PCC's have ignored this too. If he's complying with his licence and trying to pick up his life then good on him. The fact he maintains his innocence is not reason for him to be prevented from employment of this type and nor is the nature of his crime, as grave as that crime may be.

    I saw a few comments in a probation facebook group saying he should be recalled, prevented from football, etc. The fact of the matter is that the right to work is a human right and precedents already exist for challenging licence conditions where this has been inappropriately restricted in the past. Playing for Oldham cannot be challenged in terms of licence conditions no matter what probation, MAPPA or local police may want, and in terms of his Registered Sex Offender status or any Sex Offending Prevention Order he is not directly working with women or children. Although unlikely to happen, but even if Real Madrid signed him then licence conditions would be challenged and he would be permitted to leave the country too.

    Personally I wouldn't want a convicted rapist playing for my team nor would I be buying my kids his shirt for Xmas, no matter how many goals he scores. IMO he's not that's good a player anyway, saying that though how quickly did we forgive Beckham for losing us the World Cup, just as we forgave Gazza for being a drunk, Ferdinand for taking drugs, Graham Rix for unlawful sexual intercourse, John Terry for racism and Vinnie Jones for being a violent lunatic. Do I even need to mention Mike Tyson and Wacko Jacko?

    I'm sure it comes as no surprise that I am a probation officer and I do believe in giving people the chance to change, believing in them, and helping them to move on with their lives. I believe our work is severely hindered if every time a notorious criminal is released we have politicians, journalists and idiots on twitter calling the shots.

    Where are you Napo?

    1. I have to say I find the whole Ched Evans witch hunt very worrying because it is a witch hunt. Granted Mr Evans was tried and convicted of rape. He has always maintained his innocence as he is entitled to do so I'm not sure why so many people are screaming that part of the problem if not all of the problem for a lot of people is that he's never apologised for raping his alleged victim. Would all these people pillorying him apologise for something they hadn't done? I doubt it. He's appealing conviction as he has the right to do so if he apologises he will likely jeopardise that appeal which would be unfair to say the least. As the sensible voices which seem to be increasingly lost in the media frenzy point out, he has done his time and should be allowed to resume his career. The FA has let convicted killers back into the game and Evans didn't kill anyone so as horrible as the crime he was accused and convicted of is, you can't claim that it was worse than someone whose actions actually cost a life are.

    2. He is a convicted rapist who has only served the CUSTODIAL element of his sentence, surely we all recognise his LICENCE as an integral part of his SENTENCE???
      He is a registered sex offender in denial who may well have been complicit in his "supporters" manipulation of social media and the resultant repeat victimisation of his victim who has had to relocate and change her identity since his release.
      There is a very real possibility that the lifestyle may undermine the purpose of his supervision surely?

    3. Professionally I understand he cant be prevented from playing pro football again but i still dont like it. His status as a professional footballer gave him opportunity to offend and likely contributed to his justifications. If a pair of taxi drivers or bouncers treated a young woman in the same way I doubt theyd walk back in to those careers. His failure to condemn the 'supporters' who contiue to hound his victim is nauseating.
      It would be just fine by me if the public make it impossible for him to be signed.

    4. Annon 16:39

      You thinking is all thats wron with the probation service.
      Your views reflect an indocterated opinion, that of the establishment and media generated control of the great unwashed.
      Learn how to think for yourself.
      Or choose an alternative profession.
      Maybe politics as a UKIP candidate?

    5. i AM ANON 16:39
      thanks for the personal abuse, you are quite simply wrong about me and offensive. Shame on you.

    6. I am not Anon at 23:01 and think there is a place for both of you in the modern NPS & CRCs if for reasons I cannot completely understand you choose to work for either.

      However, it is stated "He (Ched Evans) is a registered sex offender in denial".

      I suspect that it is only those who have had very close contact with Ched Evans who might 'know' beyond doubt that he is 'in denial' - though it maybe that we have different understandings of the term 'in denial'.

      For me it means knows he is responsible as charged. It seems perfectly possible (admittedly, I have not studied all the published information closely) that a person might acknowledge the detail of an event - that he had sex with another person that he initiated - whilst still believing that the other person wanted the intimacy.

      What I do know is that he was released, presumably under a version of the ACR scheme (I am not up to date with the practical detail of the arrangements for 50% automatic supervised release for a person serving a 5 year sentence - when I last worked such releases were only available to people who served between 1 and 4 years). So, I presume such a release does not require an admission of guilt. I understand he has an outstanding application to the CCRC for his conviction to be reconsidered & for him to be granted leave to appeal that. Should such an appeal be successful, he would again have all the rights available had he never been arrested.

      Were I working as a probation officer, with him, I would need to treat him as a guilty person and would suspend any personal suspicion I may have of innocence - as I once did with two men I supervised stringently to the end of parole after they received 10 year sentences during the 1990s.

      If it is difficult for probation folk and the legal process to cope with the actual situation when release occurs before the legal conviction process is exhausted, it will be even harder for the general public - whipped up by a media storm - to do likewise - but - as one Stipendiary Magistrate at Clerkenwell was known to frequently say when required to adjudicate in situations of uncertainty - "there it is" - we just need to get on with it - casting aspersions about folk who may not understand the issues or processes and who disagree with us is unlikely to improve awareness and good social order!

  8. David Wilson is a joke. He masquerades as a serious academic criminologist, but in reality he just wants to get his face on TV or his name in the popular press. He is a publicity hungry pseudo-academic who is concerned only about self-promotion. Awful man.

    1. He has been parodied by Private Eye with them quoting 'a Criminologist' making statements like 'The perpetrator will be a loner who has a large network of friends. Extremely shy with a loud persona. Unintelligent but very bright'. Etc,etc. Tony

  9. I supervised some former borstal boys in the early 1980s before borstal went. It was a "badge of honour" for some who survived the regimes to be considered one of the "hard nuts." Never a rehabilitative experience in my view, usually the opposite. This borstal experience TV programme is just about gutter press and voyerism, in addition to the self-aggrandisement of those involved in the making. It is also about the romanticisation of a past that never was. Bring back the birch I say lol!

  10. Soon to be followed by "Bring Back Pindown" I suppose.

  11. My book, 'France or Prison', is focused on a fourteen year old boy back in the sixties, caught on an errand of mischief, who was brought before local magistrates and sentenced to be detained for two years at an approved school. This section of the book is based on absolute truth and fact. Not only does the story reveal the severity of such a life, it is written in a compellingly honest style that portrays the naive and simple humour of the situation of youth and circumstance, as seen through the eyes of the young rogues and adventurers who were relieved of their liberty for their misdemeanours. The like of which, compared to the deeds of many of their modern culpable counterparts, would today seem trifling by comparison. After his release back into the community, the subject never completely escapes from the blunderings of boyhood, and we disclose some extraordinary episodes of his life. After forty years spent trying to
    evade the wrath of society, he decides to abscond to France.
    It is available on Amazon.

  12. I did two terms in Rochester borstal in the mid 70s...think about 9 mths initially and then 3mths on recall + a few extra weeks for misbehaving. I made A wing orderly on the second term though hardly fit for it.

    I went right through the system (69 to 76) from childrens homes at 10 to aylesbury YP at 17. I was a runaway, a wild child who stole cars and burgled and couldnt settle. The grass was always greener........... I doubt anything could have stopped me, well it didnt. But on reflection (I'm now mid 50s) its discipline that we lacked. Borstal etc was just the thing we needed. Locked up so we couldnt do any more harm to the public. Strict discipline and vocational (sort of) training. The institutions should be what we lacked in parental guidance but most of all protective custody. It protects society and also protects the inmates from themselves. Nothing stopped me being a criminal but me. One thing is for sure the soft touch of today will never work. Young people abandoned to serve a term with all the trappings of a holiday camp is soul destroying and serve no purpose but to balance the books. Society has to understand some people are just bad and must be locked up. One to one rehab is great but impossible to fund on any scale.

    We just need locking up for the term set and strict discipline with worthwhile vocational training. Whilst inside we switch off from the outside world (quite easy actually, and the only way to serve time) keep our heads down and count the days. The soft touch approach today where they have everything but freedom must drive them insane and its pointless, beyond pacifying so as to run prisons short staffed and on a budget. It will never work. Its not rocket science.

    Sometimes there is no answer as to why kids/youths do bad things. We dont know ourselves so how the hell is the state gonna work us out!

    Dumping us out on the streets in a country with no hope and a society that doesnt care and politicians who see their job is to fill their pockets rather then do what we pay them to do. I met more crooks in public office then I ever did incarcerated!

    Hard time may be the only true parenting we ever receive. It didnt work but its the best we have.

  13. PS: "SCUM" was a very realistic interpretation of proper borstals like Rochester if you wanted to be a tough guy, a *chap*. The rest of us just kept our heads down and got on with the sentence. You had to be tough enough not to get bullied, by standing up for yourself and hoping you got away with it. There were bullies and there were saps.

  14. I entered the criminal system as a 14 year old, The most serious crime I committed was truancy, but thanks to some 'bent' and violent coppers I ended up with a number of charges and 24 TICs - none of which I had a part in. I was sentenced to 6 months to 2 years in the mid to late 70s, I spent 9 months in Strangeways in the Borstal allocation unit, because I was so young there was talk of moving me to an approved never happened. Eventually I was sent to an open borstal - Wetherby, because it had an education center. The length of time you did before you got your tie - each unit (3) had a tie colour, but when you had a release date you were given a brown tie - was normally around 10 -12 months depending on your behaviour...I got mine after 15 months, you then knew you were getting out in 3 months. Wetherby was an open borstal but was a nightmare, up at 06.30 and if you were still going through induction this meant an hour in the gym doing circuit training before breakfast, which like all meals was a joke, my overriding memory of Wetherby was being hungry all the time, I've seen boys fight over a piece of butter about 5mm thick and the size of a 10p piece. My first night in my unit was an introduction to the 'Leg' or billet hierarchy by getting the shit kicked out of me by three different people, of whom two got payback from me about 3 months later. Borstal to me was a place where I thrived, I loved the hard work and the physical training, I also gained my C&G in welding, although I never became a welder, my early childhood was, in a word, dire, Borstal gave me a place where I belonged, and yes I had a roof over my head, got fed and clothed and paid a wage - 90p, it's probably why I was sent back for two more terms, civvy street had nothing to offer except strikes and the dole.

  15. That is an interesting comment from David Collins.

    Wetherby was the first Borstal I ever visited in about October 1973, when I was on my first placement as a very new and ignorant probation officer trainee, at the University of Liverpool and on placement with a Liverpool City Centre Office.

    Whilst the bloke I was observing was interviewing his client, some poor trusted lad was given the onerous task of showing me around and answering all my daft questions.

    I think the intention of the Borstal System was basically good and some thrived but some also suffered greatly and I imagine, as in every other penal system some are wrongly convicted.

    Sadly then as now - most of the media and parliament and the public had no great interest & only had a very vague imagination of what to be a so called Borstal System Trainee was really like.

    Sadly the system was greatly under resourced especially in the era immediately before it was closed in May 1983, just prior to which I was part of the so called neighbourhood Borstal Experiment at Hindley, near Wigan, which presumably was considered a failure because it was not "rolled out" nationally. Sadly the Prison Service under resourced it so the Borstal Officers were not able to be proper personal officers and continue their involvement post release although I had the best contact ever with my clients whilst they were in the Institution and was often in the place twice a week; rather different from the sort of contact today's "offender managers" have with those they are responsible for who are currently incarcerated.