It was recently decided that the first ‘Secure College’ for young offenders would be built in the UK. Set to be built in Leicestershire by 2017, the projected plans show that there will be space for the housing of hundreds of young offenders and that, through it, they will be able to in many cases double the time that they spend in education. The plan is that by creating this means of re-habitation the government intends to slash re-offending and to put out into the world changed young men and women who are ready to be credits to society.
So what do we think? An expensive rebranding of existing rehab programmes? A positive spend through which we, the public, will see genuine improvement? The project, if successful, could indeed be a blueprint for modern criminal response with Deputy PM, Nick Clegg saying that the college aimed to cut ‘sky high’ re-offending by those left on ‘the scrapheap’.
With the eventual aim to hold 320 young offenders and with a core management team based on a school system: a principal, deputy principal, etc. I do think that there could be some basis of positivity in this system. Studies have long found out that often young offenders would go to prison and would leave and re-offend; studies have also long shown that some of these young offenders committed crimes second time round that were far more serious – the argument is that harmless young offenders might go in, fall into a group of more dangerous or criminally active prisoners, and then, upon leaving, be further from rehabilitated than when they entered the institute in the first place. Examples of petty burglars becoming murderers after spells of incarceration have occurred, for example. So would this new system of custody be beneficial?
…often young offenders would go to prison and would leave and re-offend…
As already stated, a big part of this scheme is the extension of the offenders education – in general custody as it stands today, offenders are given just 12 hours a week of study – assuming a five day week, this amounts to two and bit hours a day – in the new system the young offenders would receive double that amount which, although not quite a full school day, would be enough time to provide offenders – or students as we might call them – a similar education to the one that they would receive outside of the young offenders institute – academy.
Clegg made an astute statement when talking about the current treatment of offenders, saying that: ‘Criminals can’t go unpunished, but young people who’ve made mistakes and committed crime can’t simply be left on the scrapheap. If we expect them to turn their lives around, we have to put their time inside to good use’ and went on to add that: ‘Some young offenders spend less than one school day a week in the classroom. By increasing the amount of time young offenders spend learning, we can help them to move away from crime, take responsibility for their actions, and rebuild their lives.’ Ultimately, I find myself agreeing with Clegg.
With stats showing that there is a high percentage of re-offenders then perhaps this will be the step needed to turn things around – rather than sending these young people into institutes where they, in effect, become hardened by an arguably defeatist system, in so much as that many members of the public discount criminals after their first conviction, we can send them into an opportunity to achieve something. I remember speaking to a friend who had always been a troublemaker at school; after being kicked out he went to a different one and continued to be trouble, a little later he joined the army and, according to him, two years later he was a completely changed person – the discipline and routine of military life had taken the troublemaking young person and turned him into a responsible member of society.
…members of the public discount criminals after their first conviction…
Now I am not a person who believes that education is the answer to everything – I personally feel that our education system is flawed in a number of ways and that, in it, the rich, or the middle classes, are favoured and that, ultimately through it, there is a lot to be said for an elitist system promoting the elite, or offspring thereof, into positions of privilege. But perhaps this kind of facility, somewhere that statistically does contain more members of the ‘working class’, is exactly the step that is needed. If discipline and enforced education can turn these young men and women around then it has the potential to break new ground and through it we might well produce extraordinary young people who might otherwise, left in the usual YOI, have turned into little more than crime statistics.
It is my belief that the social imbalance in our country is led by, rather than an intentional attempt to maintain it, a defeatist attitude; many people do look at criminals with a pre-existing idea of what a criminal is and do not consider the circumstance of their crime. When the London riots happened, people slated all of those involved as being degenerate members of society, and many of the interviews shown only supported this idea, but I do believe that somewhere beneath the outward aesthetic randomness of those riots, there was a deep-seated feeling of abandonment. Perhaps the anger was not expressed correctly, or perhaps those involved could not articulate it correctly themselves but, for many involved, their lives have been, and likely will continue to be, a struggle upward against the finance, education and politically created constraints of society. If you grew up, not knowing that you could go to university, not knowing that you had the opportunity to get any job that you wanted, then wouldn’t you be frustrated?
…a deep-seated feeling of abandonment…
With increases in tuition fees and a clear bias toward the rich being implemented in future university admission, then perhaps this kind of facility is a sign that, somewhere in government, there is still a wish to see those without the opportunities of the middle class taking those opportunities for themselves. And for those people that are determined to write off young offenders, bare one man in mind – a young man that, some years ago committed credit card fraud and received a criminal conviction, a man that went on to receive a full scholarship to Cambridge and a man that, now, is considered one of our greatest national treasures – Stephen Fry. The potential of humanity is limitless in almost every way internally speaking, but it is external limitations that place upon us boundaries to what we might achieve – if this new Young Offender’s Institute makes a change in even one student/offender’s life, then I believe that there is a need for it – many of us take for granted the opportunities that circumstance has made available to us, I just hope that in Leicestershire, in 2017, at least one of these young people sees an opportunity to rise above the potential that society has subscribed them to.