It's not as if any of the techniques are novel or innovative. It's not rocket science to bring in a reformed villain in the shape of Noel 'Razor' Smith to talk to the lads and the effect is palpable. Especially so when Noel explains that all those years 'kicking-off' in the prison system result in no favours being granted by way of permission to attend his nineteen-year-old son's funeral. This may be shite re-enactment TV to many, but it's obvious the message is not lost on the lads and they are clearly moved and reflective as a result.
Equally some of the lads shine when given responsibility, such as entertaining the vicar and his wife and all can see the reasoning behind the award of one of the three 'merit' badges to the person deemed to have made the biggest change for the better. It may 'only' be a TV programme, but the lad ejected for aggressively picking up the knife all-too-clearly comes to appreciate the possible consequences of such a rash action. The lesson learnt just might save him from a very long prison sentence further down the road.
Of course it's not a faithful re-enactment of Borstal. For a start it's set in the 1930's, and I suspect most negative commentators will only have experience of Borstal in later years. It's not a documentary and doesn't pretend to be one and yes, we know it all ended because it was an indeterminate sentence and therefore flouted basic tenets of natural justice.
Unlike Professor Wilson, I wouldn't particularly claim that historic Borstal was 'successful', but having seen two episodes of this series, I would disagree with former Borstal boy Allan Weaver, author of this reprise on the NoOffence website, who doesn't seem to feel it's been worthwhile:-
I suppose the first issue to raise is the extent to which this television show can claim to be a social experiment on the grounds of what is called ‘ecological validity’. Many of the conditions imposed in this ‘social experiment’ (perhaps for ethical reasons) do not accord with actual Borstal experiences, including (at the very least) the absence of corporal punishment, the demographics of participants, the voluntary and short term nature of the placement and the sinister, ever present threat of violence and fear it gave rise to. It is not, then, possible to infer from this the effects to an actual Borstal - then or now. So perhaps the first thing to note is that this has more in common with ‘Big Brother’ than a social experiment.Bullying, violence and abuse of various sorts were commonplace in real Borstal and that should never be forgotten, but these are factors at play in any YOI and prison today. It strikes me that the same issues remain, it's just that we're still not very good at finding solutions, especially when taking any risks with clients is verboten nowadays. Despite my unease over Professor Wilson's involvement, I still think it's been an 'experiment' worth undertaking.