"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."
"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."
"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."
"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."But leaving that aside, for those with long memories, this social experiment is very similar to the 'Bad Lads Army' series screened a few years ago which sought to re-create the experience of National Service from the 1950's. Just like 'Bring Back Borstal', it can't replicate all aspects of the institution it seeks to emulate because the participants are willing volunteers in a televised social experiment and can walk out at any time. But despite this, the lads soon come to realise that it is 'reality', but of a different sort to that they are used to and very strong emotions are stirred as a result.
Just as with 'Bad Lads Army', a number of the lads very soon realise that what they might have thought was going to be nothing more than a remunerated laugh, in fact quite quickly turns out to be something they can't cope with and make a rapid exit. I'm hypothesising, but I suspect in time some may come to view that the reason they often give - 'I don't like it' - sounds a bit pathetic, especially by the time their mates have watched the programme.
The common theme with experiments like this seems to be the degree to which the young men make it plain that they are not used to hearing the word 'no' and feel completely entitled to refuse to do anything they don't like. Of course being able to come to terms with both is a very important lesson in life and it will be fascinating to see how each deals with this over the course of the series.
Without doubt it's risky TV, and I'd be fascinated to view some of the mountain of footage left on the cutting room floor. I'd also like to know how much of the very long days were actually spent in purposeful activity. Despite the impression created, I suspect not that much, but that's TV for you.
As a general rule, in Probation we're not allowed to take risks with clients any more. We're not even supposed to carry them in our cars, let alone take them off in a van to see the world beyond their street, so I have to admit I'm drawn to something like this simply because it's flying by the seat of your pants and experience tells me it can produce remarkable results. But for us that's all in the past - Probation is very much a risk-averse business now sadly.
Despite the laudable aims of the Borstal system, I suspect we all know that it was traumatic and damaging for many and we shouldn't seek to airbrush that out of history. But to my mind it doesn't alter the fact that there are many positive aspects to some of the ideas and concepts that lay behind it and indeed National Service even. I'm thinking of all that sadly unfashionable character-building, team-building and confidence-building stuff such as Outward Bound, Intermediate Treatment, Sail Training Association, Scouting, Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme etc, etc.
We know it worked in the past, broadened horizons, taught responsibility and would work again. Those long-in-the-tooth will recall Probation used to do it all, but we allowed it to get labelled as 'treats for naughty boys' and scrapped. We allowed the politicians and right-wing press to steer us down a punishment route and we ended up with bloody prison governors calling the shots in NOMS.
I'm sure 'Bring Back Borstal' will continue to annoy many, but just like 'Bad Lads Army', I'm also fairly sure that for some of the participants it will prove a beneficial, life-changing experience and serve to remind us in the Criminal Justice System that we've still got a lot to learn about effective rehabilitation and the most appropriate treatment of young offenders.