I don’t know really how to respond to this final episode of this four week series on ITV. On the one hand, as with all the previous episodes, it bore no resemblance whatsoever to how borstal was at any time in the past. It was so far from reality that it was laughable to those of us who have real knowledge of how things were. I still cannot understand why the programme makers needed this borstal umbrella particularly as it was painting a totally false picture throughout.
If the programme makers and ITV wanted a programme featuring a group of young men trying to sort their lives out why didn’t they say so.
Borstal boys were just that, boys. No one was ever sent to borstal when they were over or nearing 21, it just didn’t happen. To pick a group of men who had already served prison sentences was not a way of getting any accurate picture of reactions to the regime. To really gauge that you must have subjects with a totally different frame of mind, teenage boys who are being sent away for the first time and are totally unaware of what they face. It’s the same in adult prisons too to a large extent. Prison is supposed to be a deterrent but that will only be the case for people who haven’t been inside. First timers will be the only ones who benefit in this way.
Back to the borstal programmes. It would be totally remiss of me and dishonest to if I didn’t finish this by saying that last night’s programme had some wonderful results. Finding work placements for Spence and getting the educational placements back on track for Hopwood were a triumph, the programme ended on a very positive and heart warming note so why on earth all the previous silliness in claiming it was anything like borstal I shall never understand.
What the programme did achieve was to illustrate in a very positive sense how getting to know an individual and responding to his needs in life can achieve such positive results. All of which could be achieved in the community with the necessary investment and a radical approach plus to do so would save a vast amount of cash by locking up far less guys at thosands of pound a year.
On the negative side though the programmes also proved that some people cannot be helped in that way.
A case in point is the Kearney brothers, they will never change and are destined to spend long periods of their lives inside. That isn’t a criticism of the two lads, they have been failed by soiety which should have intervened many years ago, very sad but all too common these days.


Where do I start? Every week to programme becomes more and more fictional.
And the guy who is acting as The Governor just defy’s belief. When setting this programme up he must have been aware that no one was ever sent to borstal who had previously served a prison sentence.
It doesn’t take a genius to know that a boy in his late teens who has never been inside previously has a totally different attitude and personality to the men in their twenties who have served prison sentences. Surely the researchers should know that!!
A leading criminologist (ITV describes him as such) must know that unless he’s simply read books and formed the totally wrong impression of people.
Borstal boys did not, and were scared to, have the attitudes that the programme’s boys have. They are all so laughable it is making a mockery of the whole point of the programme.
And no Professor Wilson not all borstals worked on the house system, most didn’t and last evening you stated that borstals weren’t involved with the community, wrong again, many open borstals were indeed heavily involved in community activities. I remember at Hatfield being asked one late evening together with another dozen or so boys if we would help South Yorkshire Police remove a load of timber from the site of a crashed HGV.
This programme is so factually inaccurate the it is misleading and certainly doesn’t encourage anyone to support bringing back borstal.
From day one borstal was an abject failure, the re offending rates were huge and the operating costs prohibitive.
The Borstal system closed because it was not fit for purpose, pure and simple.
Young Offender Institutions need to go the same way because nor are they fit for purpose in their currect form.


I haven’t blogged for a few days about anything penal affairs except an exceptionally poor documentary about the historic borstal system.
There have been a few news happenings during that time but I have been more interested in trying to work out how the country is going to sort out the mess every aspect of life is and I’ve reached the conclusion that the authorities are at such a level of denial about what is really happening that really nothing can be done and this is especially so in the Justice Ministry. Failing Grayling is so out of touch with reality that he is becoming a real and present danger and his ministry is in danger of imploding.
Never has there been so much unrest in every aspect of the system than there is now and mostly it is simply because as always profits are being put before people. Of course economics form a very important part in any government but not to the level that all other aspects of society are made to suffer for it.
We can only hope that after next May the Government who are then in power will start and think more about people than the incumbent one does.


Yet another episode of this intriguing but totally inaccurate portrayal of borstal as it was. Again so far removed from the reality as it can be. Amazing that the producers and the programme head Professor Wilson are using this to try and persuade MoJ to bring borstal back – having said that some of Graylings initiatives are in the same crazy category so who knows what will happen. Perhaps fortunate that we have an election soon and hope upon hope we get a Government which cares about people rather than profits, so no Grayling.
Going back to the borstal theme though they are part of history and need to remain there along with the old detention centres.
The whole penal system needs radical reform but before that’s even considered our attitude as a society towards offenders needs to change drastically.



It would appear I am not alone in my opinion of this latest load of ITV rubbish and I note that instead of addressing comments about the project its main protagonist simply blocks anyone who comments, how very adult and brattish!!
The programme has no reality about it whatsoever and since I commented about it I have been contacted by a number of guys who, like myself, actually served a sentence of Borstal Training. Without exception their comments are ones of incredulity.
Does no one at ITV check for factual accuracy before a programme is aired? Surely there must be some rule which prevents this type of fiction being broadcast as factual?

For some time now I have commented about the danger of basing projects on book learning without input from genuinely experienced and now, having seen the Debacle which is Bring back borstal I have been proved right.
Perhaps some enterprising film maker would like to contact me and use my group of contacts to make an accurate documentary about what borstal was really like!!!
Although it was pure fiction the film SCUM featuring Ray Winstone amongst others in to my mind the most accurate depiction to date.
The one thing we must all realise though is that there were always various classes of borstals ranging from open and relatively liberal institutions the the infamous Reading closed punishment borstal which was so brtal that it was closed down in the eighties following a News of the World exposee resulting in a public outcry.

For true storiesfrom English prisons read my book A LIFE OF SENTENCES available now in paperback price £8.99 from or

Bring back borstal ITV

What an absolute load of rubbish. I have never seen a television programme more inaccurate than this ITV so called documentary.
Nothing about the programme was factually correct, and I mean nothing.
I accept that there has to be a certain amount of artistic licence but this programme was beyond the pale. I served a borstal sentence in the early 1960s and even then the depiction as shown in this work of fiction was totally inaccurate.
The programme makers claim the programme to be an accurate description of life in a 1930s borstal.
No, no, no, no, no!!!!!!!!!!!!! First of all ‘boys’ in their twenties are featured, boys over 21 were never sentenced to borstal training.
The ‘inmates’ in the programme are addressed by staff as Mr whatever. Inmates were only ever addressed by their surnames. Staff were always addressed as Sir, it was an offence against discipline to address them otherwise.
There was constant drill, drill and more drill.
This programme absolutely defies belief and for it to be led by an academic and so called expert truly is a joke.

Featherstone Prison

I understand there have been a number of poblems recently at HMP Featherstone. I spent three years there in the mid eighties where I was helped and encouraged to write a number of books. However I can see how problems might arise simply because of the sheer size of the place. Indeed I have recently campaigned for smaller localo prisons and shall continue to do so despite the MoJ rejecting my arguments.

A great site