Bring Back Borstal - The Review

I recently wanted a series called Bring Back Borstal which sent some offenders to try out life in a 1930’s style prison. I love programmes like this where people go back in time to life in previous years to see how difficult it was.

When the men arrived they were split into two teams to compete against each other. They were told to hand in their personal belongings and given clothes similar to what would have been worn in 1930’s borstal.

A typical day was a wake up call for most, being made to wake up at 6am every morning. Anyone who refused would be tipped out of bed - there were no excuses. They were split into two teams to compete in everything throughout the week. At the end of the week, the team the governor had deemed the best, would be given a few hours access to the games room. In this social experiment there was no modern day technology, no TV’s or games consoles, just good old fashion games.

The two teams each had a dormitory in which to sleep in and daily room inspections would take place. First thing every morning, the men were expected to do two hours of physical exercise such as running, sit-ups and press-ups no matter what the weather. The men were trained to be physically fit. After breakfast it was time for work. This could be anything for washing and polishing the floor, cleaning the windows, chopping firewood or doing some gardening . There was nobody to do it for them, everything had to be done by the prisoners. In the afternoon it was time to go to the school room. It has been proven that many of the offenders had little or no qualifications when they left school, which led them to a life of crime. Spending the afternoon in the school room meant that it gave them men the opportunity to learn basic skills such as reading, writing and maths so that when they were released they would stand a better chance of getting a proper job.

The main difference was it was all hard work, doing manual labour & learning for 15 hours each day. They rest of the time was spent eating and sleeping. There were no distractions such as TV or mobile phones and they could only stay within the grounds. Each week, one of the exercise slots would be taken up practising a team sport such as rugby. At the end of the week or every couple of weeks, a match would take place between the prisoners and a local team. This would be the only interaction with people in the outside world.

I believe this is how a prison should be. It should be a place of learning and hard labour. It shouldn’t be a comfortable place for people to have fun and have a laugh. Some prisoners have admitted that they feel safer in prison than they do in the outside world, meaning a lot of them commit more crimes just to go back inside. Whereas this 1930’s Borstal showed what happened when the offenders had to work hard whilst inside. The idea was to create structure, rules, and labour. For most of the offenders, this way of live meant that they didn’t want to go back inside and tried harder to stay out of trouble. They had also gained new skills and so had a better chance of finding employment in the outside world.

Prison life should be hard. Other peoples lives have been affected by the crimes commited by the prisoners. Prison should be seen as a punishment not as an easy way. I was shocked when one prisoner said that he had chosen to serve a prison sentence rather than do community service because it was easier. Prisons today are too comfortable and easy, creating a security net that many prisoners find difficult to leave. Prison officers have so many rules and regulations and have to treat prisoners with such kindness because if not they themselves could be sued by the prisoner. There is so much red tape for the prison sector that no real change is happening to the prisoners. To many, they are no longer scared about it, with some even admitting to looking forward to it. This has caused the prisoners to be in the same circle for most if not all of their lives. This is what needs to change before more and more people offend for an ‘easy life’.


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