First secure school ‘will revolutionise the way we treat young offenders’



T

he country’s first secure school, which is set to “revolutionise” youth justice, has cleared its final hurdle and can open next year.

Oasis Restore will be a replacement for youth jail and will house the most violent child prisoners.

Until now a charity has never run such an institution, but a change in the law has made it possible. The legislation required has received royal assent and it is set to open in November next year.

Steve Chalke, founder of Oasis, a charity that already runs a chain of academy schools, said: “As a society we have always followed the Victorian idea that you lock people up and punish them. Then you release them through the gates and wonder why they all reoffend.

“But you can’t help a person by harming them. You can’t take people who are wounded and punish them, hoping that the punishment will cure the wound.”

Oasis Restore will be based on the site of the former Medway secure unit in Kent which was closed down after a documentary exposed staff using physical force on children.

The focus will be on education and rehabilitation rather than punishment. Young people aged 12 to 18 will be housed in “bedrooms” rather than cells, and in “houses” rather than wings.

They will be able to take part in evening activities such as playing chess and watching films rather than being locked up from 7pm, and learn to live in a community. A recording studio will be built, prison bars will be replaced by toughened glass and a team of therapists and counsellors will be on hand.

Mr Chalke said: “Instead of asking, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ we will ask, ‘What’s happened to you?’”

If the pilot project is a success the new approach could be rolled out more widely. The approach is already successful in Scandinavian countries, Mr Chalke said, adding that the problems they face is having too few people to fill their prisons. He said: “With the abolition of hanging we gave up on physical punishment. But since then we have psychologically punished people. We lock them up.

“All the research shows this does not work. People come out of prison worse than when they went in. This is about care and restoration, it’s not an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.

“We are not trying to hide your crime, let’s look at what you have done and why you have done it, and let’s explore a different way of being you.” He added that many children who end up in jail have been neglected or abused.

Mr Chalke said: “A huge amount of research shows the more adverse childhood experiences you have had changes the shape of your brain.”

He said many of the children “have not been read to, they have not been loved, they have not been cared for. They listened each night as their dad has beaten their mum black and blue”.

The 49 boys and girls at Oasis Restore will take part in more formal education during the day and continue in the evenings with art, music and sport.

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “Our new secure school will put education, healthcare and rehabilitation at the heart of our efforts to cut crime and keep the public safe.”



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