Raab: Safe faculties for juvenile delinquents will revolutionize youngster custody

The Justice Secretary says he is confident that a new safe school for young offenders is the right solution to the UK’s “flaky” youth protection regime.

Dominic Raab visited the site of the former safe training center in Rochester, Kent, which is being converted into the UK’s first safe school.

It is described as a school within a prison, while existing juvenile detention facilities are less focused on education.

It is hoped that by adopting a strict routine and curriculum that includes core subjects such as English and math, as well as vocational subjects, “mindfulness classes” and team sports, children can break the cycle of crime and avoid re-offending.

The visit comes weeks after the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) released a report on juvenile custody that concluded the Justice Department’s efforts were “failing children”.

The cross-party committee of MPs also criticized the lack of a clear and cogent strategy to improve the youth care regime, the cost of the Medway Safety School, which rose from £4.9m to £40m, and the school’s push for opening back from 2020 until February 2024.

Artist’s rendering of what safe Medway School’s classrooms could look like once it opens (PA)

Speaking to the PA news agency about the report, Mr Raab said: “Although over 10 years we have seen the number of people in juvenile detention drop from 2,000 to 500, I don’t think the results are anywhere near good enough and you need to investigate very forensically why.

“The problems will have been at home, there could have been mental health issues and quite frankly an overall lack of education for some of these young people and we’re catching them late, I can’t argue otherwise. Education, communities and social services could not include them in their safety nets.

“We’ve got to do something pretty radical, consistent and bold, and that’s make sure they have an environment that’s going to be very disciplined and quite demanding.

Artist's impression of how the bedrooms, social areas and classrooms of the Medway Secure School might look once it opens - the UK's first secure schoolArtist’s rendering of what Medway Secure School’s social spaces might look like once it opens (PA)

“For young people who haven’t sat down properly, gone through a curriculum and spent the day studying, this will be a big shift for them, but if we can both support them and require them to get through a day of school and skills learn things they’ve never learned before, we get a chance to break that cycle.

“I accept the PAC’s diagnosis, and this is a response based on empirical experience at home and abroad — the US, Spain, Scandinavian jurisdictions — to try to do something different for this elusive, stubborn core group of people young people who have often gone through a pretty hell of a time and done some pretty bad things, but we need to turn that around.”

The safe school, called Oasis Restore, is run by the Oasis Charitable Trust, which already has 52 academies in five regions of the UK.

It’s something Oasis has never done before, but founder Steve Chalke says ideally all custody arrangements should be run this way going forward.

He said: “Oasis Restore is truly a revolution in juvenile justice because it is driven by our growing understanding of brain research – how young people’s brains are formed.

Artist's impression of how the bedrooms, social areas and classrooms of the Medway Secure School might look once it opens - the UK's first secure schoolArtist’s rendering of what safe Medway School’s bedrooms might look like (PA)

“The vast majority of young people in correctional facilities are children who have struggled with life, who have been abandoned, who have been abused and who have had traumatic experiences.

“You can’t help someone by harming them, you can’t take those who have been psychologically wounded by trauma and somehow hope that punishment and long confinement will make them new people, that doesn’t work.

“The first safe school cannot be the only safe school. Oasis Restore must be the blueprint for every juvenile detention center. This way of working with young people must become the only option. This is the first safe school and it won’t be the last.”

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