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Boys Behind Bars

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What young offenders' institutes (and prisons in general) fail to recognise is the distinction between persistent but petty offenders and those of a dangerous (although perhaps not persistent) nature who pose a much greater danger to society and themselves in general. Without adequate medical reports both at sentencing and while incarcerated the two types cannot be distinguished and the problem of unpredictable violence within such institutions will continue. It is not so much that young offenders are failing society, but that the system is failing them.
Debbie Williams

It has to be one of the most interesting questions as to whether punishment is revenge or a means of reform. The latter is a preferable option, but these people appear to be bred into a society of crime. A way of life, a mindset, that no matter how much therapy etc goes in you will get nothing out. This means that the question must go back further so we must educate children before they are drawn into this dark and sad world. What is socially correct and not is also a matter for the parents...
Benjamin Maffin BSc
Wallasey Village

I'm in the armed forces, and the correction system employed by the MOD produces results which any prison service would be proud of (5% re-offend). Apart from the cost why does the govt not employ Colchester practices?
Christopher Kelly

At the end of the programme the main prison guy said, "judges send offenders there as a last resort". Well more then half the people I know have been sent down for their first offence, and half of them, about a third out of half them people had about 2 cautions for very minor offences. So does it depend on the severity of the offence and not as a last resort?
Christian Herbert

I felt the programme was very educational. It made me realise what the conditions are really like in this well known prison. It has also made me realise what career I wish to pursue in the near future, a criminal psychologist, so I can help some of the prisoners that obviously need help, and hopefully make a difference in some of their lives.
M. Stoker

Kevin was my friend from when we were 13-16. Thank you for the programme. Kevin was a good guy deep down and deserved none of what he got. The system killed him and now a great person I lost. I miss him.
Greg Clarkson
Ruislip, Middx

I am not a religious man, but I sometimes pray, not for my own redemption (I treat people fairly because I do not know another way, and not because I will get something when I die as in religious people). I pray for a god of vengeance, who will smite those who cause such suffering and misery, because like it or not there are people we can point our fingers at. Are people inherently bad, some point to the human genome project with apparent irrefutable evidence. But deep down we all know that it is society that corrupts the individual and not the reverse. Pure unbridled and unregulated capitalism breeds obvious inequalities between people and genders. Those at the top regarding those at the bottom as failures. We must look at why children are doing these things, and not waste time and effort solving the symptoms, we must address the fundamental reasons for virtually all crime - POVERTY, SUB-STANDARD LIVING CONDITIONS. Those that attempt to squeeze us into a smaller and smaller box, will surely die before it is resolved, but some will see it burst open, spilling all that has been pent up for so long. I know this sounds very cryptic, but those who are educated will know what I mean. Just imagine being one of these kids, with very little education, unable to express oneself properly, whilst people who have everything they want talk over their heads of the reasons they are there.
Jason Chapman

Kev Henson touched our lives briefly when he was staying with a foster family in our area, miles from his home. He came across as an average teenager with the added burden of having lost his mum. Like most teenagers he took alcohol but I don't think it could have been described as a severe problem at that stage. What happened in those three years between her death and his? Kev obviously didn't get the support he needed after she died. His friends here, my sons among them, were shocked and saddened by his death, what a waste of a young life.

Youth custody - been there, done it, seen it. I'm 33 now and have left all criminality well behind me, yet as I remember it was very much a dog eat dog world, with young men outwardly showing a hard front, but inwardly very scared, and for the first time away from family and friends. As a society are we here to sort these lads out as a caring humane society spending the money required to help and support them, or are we in the real world where we are NOT here to mollycoddle and say there, everything's going to be all right, no you do wrong this is what happens, life's hard, and your not in school now? What I believe is happening is that we're saying the former and doing the latter, this is where we're getting mixed up, this is where the confusion is coming from, these kids go away and think we're going to continue being their social worker or form teacher? But when they get in there it finally dawns on them that in reality no one cares whether they live or die, and they aren't some great individual but just a number, a statistic - a big realisation I think to any youngster!

Being a 21 year old I am absolutely horrified that Feltham exists. It is a disgrace, it offers limited counselling and inadequate facilities for juveniles. Not surprisingly it has a re-offending rate of 90%. What does the government expect when it locks them away and mentally tortures the boys with no mental stimulation?
Catherine Mc Cauley
Derry, Northern Ireland

My brother hung himself in Feltham in 1997. Feltham is not a place for young vulnerable boys. Society cannot bury their heads in the sand and forget that prisons exist.

A very biased programme that shows the inmates to be hard done by. Have you ever given a thought to the officers who have to look after these "little angels". How demoralising do you think it is for us (Prison officers) to be shown as unsympathetic and uncaring. We first and foremost have a duty of care to those people committed by the courts no matter what the age group. Also for the public who have never been in prison or who wouldn't even entertain the thought of entering one, this has damaged our already scorned reputation. I would challenge any member of the public to do our job and put up with the stress and abuse that we have to. As for your portrayal of prisons being run by Operational Support Grade staff at night, this is just ridiculous. There have to be discipline staff on the wings as well. And as for the O.S.G being untrained for the possibility of suicide, well every prison in the land carry out staff training and suicide awareness is high on the prison service training schedule. So please before you distort the general public's view of us engage your brains before making a programme like this. Why not follow officers and show how much grief we get off of inmates! and how we get assaulted and all the nasty things that happen to us. These are the things that the public never see from the media, And maybe its about time to support us in a job we find both rewarding and challenging!

My eldest son has been in and out of prison since he was 14. My youngest son has been in trouble too and has actually spent time in Feltham. I might add that, as a single parent, I have tried to bring my children up with morals and decency. Their sister is not a problem at all. My eldest son has a very serious alcohol and drug problem which is the main reason for him reoffending. He drinks to oblivion to try and block the reality of life out and becomes so stupefied that he reoffends in one way or another and ends up inside again. He has learnt many things while inside, both good and bad. He has had the opportunity of education, weight training etc, he has also learned more about committing further crimes and has picked up a heroin problem from prison. I have pleaded for him to receive some kind of rehab but the pleas seem to fall on deaf ears. I hope that something can be done for lads like mine and my heart goes out to these lads that just need some understanding and help and also, of course, the victims they have hurt. An anxious mum
Milton Keynes

I was very moved indeed by your programme, and as a trainee probation officer, I hope I will be at the forefront of preventing Young People from setting foot there. However, good though your programme was as others have said, it painted only one side of the picture. I visited Feltham myself last week, and spoke to senior probation staff who are doing very valuable and positive work faced with enormous obstacles. They have only recently been allowed to operate on the prison wings, close to the boys. There are some very caring prison officers, and some excellent pre-release work being done. Why was this not shown? Anyway, this is not a place any human being should be sent; not just Feltham either. There are other Young Offenders' Centres with an even worse track record. Obviously there are some young people who need to be apart from society, as they are so dangerous, but there must be a more humane way of punishing petty criminals. There are, thankfully schemes such as Community Service, which are far more constructive, both to the offender, and the community at large. I am very glad the programme had such emotional weight, and I hope it helps to bring about change in the system as a whole.
Helen Martin

I am a 19 year old University student, but I have seen many people I know become involved in crime. The government needs to address the problem that Britain faces with hard drugs. Where I live 11 year olds are turning to Heroin and its not because of their parents (even though that often has a lot to do with it) but they are bored and it gives them a 'buzz' and something to do, until they are so caught up in it they can no longer control what they do. Sending them to prison does not deter them at all as when they come out they have nothing to look forward to - and most of the time no education to show people how capable they are. People in prison should be educated to the fullest extent possible, because that is what these people are lacking in. Not everybody is academic, and this must be taken into account - surely they can learn practical skills which would make them more attractive to future employers and maybe get them out of the vicious circle they are in.
Alyson Storer

I have always been of the opinion that if you are treated like animals then you will act like animals. Looking at the conditions at Feltham I was appalled to see that there was no on site Psychiatrist or counsellor. No mention was made of any form of rehabilitation i.e. education or training. Locking up youths for 23 hours a day would drive me crazy so I was not surprised there is a high suicide rate.
Philip Artemis
Wood Green

There is a lot of fuss about the right to life and the abolition of capital punishment in the UK. But what happens in institutions like Feltham prison is capital punishment by default. A kind of capital punishment not authorised by Parliament or any democratic measures, but caused by the cruelty and inhumanity of systems and institutions manned and maintained by people who have lost all feelings for human dignity. The people who cause such cruel deaths are responsible for crimes against humanity and should be treated and tried as such.
Kamal Rasul

After watching the programme I was utterly shocked at the way the system treats these minors! The question that kept repeating itself in my head was why was this allowed to go on for so long and still to this day? After the report on the young Asian boy being maliciously beaten to death by his inmate which referred to him as his "padmate", despite the fact that all the other inmates thought he was strange didn't seem to impress upon any of the other staff members. But also the fact that he had an RIP tattoo imprinted on his forehead! It's just a complete shambles! I can't believe how the head of the prison sat in his chair and admitted responsibility for this young man's death and didn't show any remorse whatsoever! This was the final straw! I just hope that somebody will take some action and get the massive on going problem sorted once and for all.
Thomas Hunter

I am a prison officer at Feltham and have been there quite some time. I was quite disgusted at the fact that your programme only focused on recent negative events. Since it aired I have had countless prisoners say to me that they have had to phone home to reassure their parents and loved ones that things aren't actually as bleak as you made them appear on TV. For these comments to come from prisoners is astounding as usually they are as negative as yourselves when it comes to comments about prison. I had thought that a programme such as yourself would have made more of an effort to show the public the positive changes that Feltham has made recently instead of focusing purely on recent events. We are doing a difficult job with difficult young people that you the public would like to forget about.

I thought that it was disgusting that the governor admitted to not having the records of an inmate sent to Feltham. If this keeps going on then more situations like that of "RIP" guy with the tattoo could easily happen again. He should never have been put in a cell with an Asian boy as he was a racist and this would have been acknowledged if the prison had checked his letters when they were supposed to not after the event when it was too late. I was astonished at the TV cabling not being encased. They were warned that it could easily be used for someone who wanted to hang themselves. To this day as well there are still some cells with the cabling not encased. Do these prisons not learn anything from past experiences?
Natasha Nelson

Unlike many who have responded to the programme I found this Panorama disappointing and a missed opportunity. I, like some 250 odd other members of the public, do voluntary work at Feltham YOI and I've been there for three years. Yes, some conditions are not good at Feltham. Yes, we have tremendous problems. Yes, there is certainly room for improvements and the programme showed circumstances of which Feltham is not proud, is well aware of, and of which most of the staff are trying to do something about as best they can. I'm not trying to make excuses but there are 101 reasons why Feltham has problems. One of the main problems is Feltham's role in 'the system'. Panorama only briefly dealt with this. 10,000 vans arrive per year - some 34,000 odd inmate movements per year. Feltham is a factory, a transit camp housing both convicted prisoners and those on remand. The day to day population being 800 odd 15-21 year olds. There are perhaps lads in Feltham who could possibly be better dealt with outside prison. I've always felt that surely a system could be devised to deal with less serious offenders whereby both they and society could benefit through community based work schemes. However quite a few of the lads in Feltham are there for very serious offences. And some of the lads have serious mental health problems and Feltham is not the best place for them. Panorama, to its shame, completely ignored the positive things going on inside Feltham and the efforts made by staff both Prison Service and volunteers who try to help, support, educate and make 'life inside' just that little bit more bearable.

I was amazed to hear the new governor state that they accepted prisoners without knowledge in some cases of what their crimes were. I find this hard to believe. Working for one of the agencies I know that all warrants from court state the charge which is then checked by the agency transporting the prisoner. This has to be accurate and complete before accepting as with first hand knowledge I know that the prisons are reluctant to except anybody who doesn't have the correct documentation resulting in the prisoner getting locked out, something we all want to avoid. I am also aware that we try to include any relevant info on the prisoner or his behaviour whilst in court but minimal info is coming from prison.
Karen Wilson

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