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Bring Back Borstal
“This is a tough regime. It’s relentless. It’s for day upon day, upon day. 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.” Professor David Wilson, The Governor
1930s Borstal was a much-feared institution designed to reform young offenders by enforcing compulsory work, education, discipline and intense physical activity. In its heyday, it was a system that worked, with low levels of re-offending and a low financial cost. Today, nearly three quarters of young offenders released from prison reoffend within twelve months. But what would happen if they were sent to Borstal?
In a unique experiment, 14 young troublemakers, half of whom have criminal convictions, have volunteered to become borstal boys, spending four weeks in a castle in Northumberland to bring the borstal back to life. Between them they have around 60 criminal convictions and many have served time in prison. But under the guidance of experts, can they handle the dreaded institutional regime of the past?
Taking on the role of Borstal Governor is one of the UK’s leading criminologists, Professor David Wilson, who will oversee the troublemakers to see if they can break their cycle of bad behaviour. David says:
“I’m taking part in this experiment because seven out of ten young people who went through Borstal in the 1930s never committed crime again after their release.”
As the boys arrive at the castle to begin their rehabilitation, first to greet the new arrivals is Chief Officer Dugan, an ex-military man of 25 years and the Governor’s enforcer of discipline.
Over the course of the day, the 14 volunteers are transformed from free men to inmates. From this point on they will eat, sleep and breathe the life of a 1930s borstal lad. Before being interviewed by the Governor, the volunteers report for a medical with Matron.
Twenty-three-year old Jack Burniston served six months in prison for actual bodily harm and his record also includes theft, resisting arrest, possession of Class A and Class B drugs and criminal damage.
He says: “I don’t think I need discipline, I think other people think I need discipline. I’m taking part to see if it’s different from prison, to challenge myself a little bit. I’ve got to stop being a naughty boy.”