Prison guards will be known as 'teachers' at Oasis Restore, which will offer a humanising approach to rehabilitating juvenile inmates.
Piece by Izzy Lyons, Crime Correspondent (The Telegraph)
Violent young offenders are to be housed in the first “secure school” with “bedrooms, not cells” and “teachers, not prison guards,” its boss has revealed, ahead of new legislation that will allow charities to run youth prisons.
Oasis Restore School, run by the Rev Steve Chalke, the academy founder, is to replace a young offenders institute near Chatham, Kent, following a £20 million investment from the Ministry of Justice.
The school, the first of its kind in the UK, will house up to 49 of the most dangerous young criminals in the country, who will live in “homes, not prison wings” and be called “students, not inmates”.
“There will be no guards, no uniforms, no clanging keys,” Rev Chalke told The Telegraph.
“We will begin with a different question. Rather than aggressively asking ‘What have you done wrong?’, our question will be, ‘What happened to you?’ and trying to unpack that.”
It is hoped that the school, which will be inspected by Ofsted, will help drive down reoffending rates in the UK, which are currently some of the highest in Europe – 23 per cent of young offenders commit another crime within the first month of release and 69 per cent in the first year.
The students sent to the school will have committed violent offences ranging from murder to serious assault.
Current system ‘isn’t working’
“Some people argue that it is soft, and it should be done differently. Well, it’s been done differently, and we have some of the highest reoffending rates,” said Rev Chalke.
“What our society tends to do is punish people who we believe have done wrong and lock them up. Punishment does not change behaviour positively and harming people doesn’t help them. We know those things.
“We know that the UK spends more on its justice system than most other developed countries. We know that we give longer sentences than other developed countries. But our reoffending rate is still so high. So, what we do isn’t working.”
Oasis Restore is due to open in late 2022 or early 2023 after the pandemic delayed plans to open it in 2021. It will cater for children aged from 12 to 18.
It will sit on the site of Medway, the former secure training centre that was closed following a string of scandals about the conditions its young inmates faced.
‘Being locked up creates resentment’
“At Medway, the young people were locked in their cells from 7pm to 7am,” Rev Chalke said. “But in the evenings, our kids will play football and chess, read books, play snooker, sit around and chat, because that’s humanising. Being locked up creates resentment and magnifies trauma.”
The school will hire about 170 staff, including youth workers, who will be “highly trained in order to be able to handle what will sometimes be aggressive behaviour”.
Rev Chalke added: “The school will be for serious offences; violent crime for most of the time. We will take who the court gives to us. But for the most part, this will be for violent crime.”
A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: “There are 70 per cent fewer children in custody than 10 years ago. However, many who remain have complex problems from persistent school absences to mental health issues and family difficulties. Secure schools will put education, healthcare and rehabilitation at the heart of our efforts to divert these vulnerable children from a life of crime.”