First safe school ‘will revolutionize the way we treat young offenders’
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First safe school ‘will revolutionize the way we treat young offenders’

The country’s first safe school, which aims to “revolutionize” youth justice, has cleared its final hurdle and could open next year.

Oasis Restore will replace the juvenile prison and house the most violent children.

Until now, the charity had never run such an institution, but a change in law made it possible. The required regulations have received royal assent and the facility is scheduled to open in November next year.

Steve Chalke, founder of Oasis, a charity that already runs a network of academic schools, said: ‘As a society we have always followed the Victorian idea of ​​locking people up and punishing them. Then you let them out the gates and wonder why they all commit crimes again.

“But you can’t help a person by hurting him. You can’t take the wounded and punish them and hope that the punishment will heal the wound.”

Oasis Restore will be based on the former Medway Secure Unit in Kent, which was closed after a documentary revealed staff used physical force against children.

The emphasis will be on education and rehabilitation, not punishment. Young people aged 12 to 18 will be accommodated 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 movies, and learn to live in a community, instead of being locked in from 7 p.m. A recording studio will be built, prison bars will be replaced with tempered glass, and a team of therapists and advisors will be at your disposal.

Chalke said, “Instead of asking, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ We’ll ask, “What happened to you?”

If the pilot project is successful, the new approach can be implemented on a larger scale. This approach has already worked in Scandinavian countries, Chalke said, adding that the problem they face is too few people to staff their prisons. He said: “With the abolition of hanging, we have given up on physical punishment. But since then we have been punishing people mentally. We’re locking them up.

“All the research shows it doesn’t work. People leave prison in worse shape than when they entered it. This is about care and restoration, not an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.

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

Chalke said: “A huge body of research shows that the more adverse childhood experiences are, the shape of the brain changes.”

He said many children “were not read to, were not loved and cared for. Every night they listened to their dad beat their mom until she cried.”

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

A spokesman for the Ministry of Justice said: “Our new safe school will put education, health care and rehabilitation at the heart of our efforts to reduce crime and ensure public safety.”