The ‘Guardian’ has a big article on the work of the YOI; it’s pretty much as you’d expect, and quite a long article, but several bits stand out.
First, there’s the assumption that these youths are – and are entitled to be – passive observers, having things done for them, taking no part in their own rehabilitation or retraining.
On-admittance interview with a staff member:
(Prisoner:)”I can’t change my bedding. I don’t know how to.”
(Staff member:)”That’s all right. I’ll come and sort it out for you.”
“No I’m not fucking doing it. I told you, I’m not good at maths, man,” a boy at the back says.
“What’s five times one?” the teacher asks him, with impressive patience.
“Am I a four-year-old?”
“What’s 480 pence in pounds?”
“Is it £480? No, it’s £48, isn’t it? I’ve never been in school. I can’t do maths. I’m not following. I’m a spastic.”
The prisoner looks out of the window. “Jail and school. Oh my god.”
Then, that the reason for their violence is the fault of the establishment:
“We fight because they don’t keep you occupied. Or because we are sexually frustrated,” a prisoner says.
Louis, 17, a notorious London gang-leader, currently ranked by staff as one of the most dangerous inmate, is fed up with all the noise.
“You get the ones who bang on the doors. They can’t hack it … they self-harm, screaming, setting their jail on fire. I used to feel sorry for them. Not any more,” he says.
“Jail is just shit, isn’t it? How can they make you better if you’re locked up with all your enemies?”
And then there’s the acceptance that these youths are the products of broken homes and chaotic neighbourhoods.
Useless, wasted lives, that society has failed (not their parents):
A third of the prisoners are looked-after children – previously in foster care or children’s homes. “Another 30% are known to social services – which means 63% are known to social services overall,” Stewart adds. “It’s a sad reflection of society.”
On the desire to be taken care of by the state:
The prison’s deputy director, Brian Stewart, recalls at least three prisoners who simply refused to leave. “One was released, walked to the car park and smashed the windows of five staff members’ cars; he was back here within a few days. He was homeless, living in a wheelie-bin before he came to us,” he says.
“Young people often get a much better quality of care here. Some of them like the security of being here. It’s often the first time really clear boundaries about where they should be and what they should be doing are set out,” he says.
“Sometimes people come back saying they want to finish their plumbing course, or they just say, ‘You know me here.’“
And the attempts to hide what they are, by changing minor aspects of the system:
Ron Jones’s name badge was recently reissued so that instead of describing him as a “Senior Custody Officer”, it now reads “Senior Care Manager” to make his title sound more appropriate for children.
The impression given is of a system that is run to serve the inmates, not to serve the rest of us. It’s well worth a look, not so much for an insight into the YOI, but into the mindset of the average ‘Guardian’ reader…