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In the United Kingdom, a borstal was a juvenile detention centre or reformatory, an institution of the criminal justice system, intended to reform delinquent male youths aged between about 16 and 21.


[edit] History

The Gladstone Committee (1895) proposed the concept, wishing to separate youths from older men in adult prisons. It was the task of Sir Evelyn Ruggles-Brise (1857-1935), a prison commissioner, to introduce the system and the first institution was established at Borstal Prison in Borstal, near Rochester in north Kent, England in 1902. A road adjoining the original institution is named after him.

The regime in these institutions was highly regulated, with a focus on education, routine, discipline and authority. Breaking the rules could result in physical punishment, including corporal punishment of three types (rather like the Royal Navy's treatment of boys): informal smacks on the spot for any misdemeanors, formal beating such as a caning imposed by (senior) staff for graver offences and, for the worst crimes such as severely abusing a staff member, the magistrate could impose the administration, by staff, of a birching (as in an adult prison, also on the bare buttocks), which because of its superior severity was frequently administered publicly, often in the gymnasium, strapped down naked over the vaulting horse, in front of the other boys to dissuade serious misbehaviour. However the precise frequency, nature and severity of punishments is a matter of dispute.

The Criminal Justice Act 1982 abolished the borstal system in the UK, introducing youth custody centres instead.

The same system had also been introduced in several other states of the British Empire and Commonwealth, including Ireland. In the Republic of Ireland the Criminal Justice Act, 1960 (Section 12) removed the term from usage. This was part of a policy to broaden the system from usage as reform and training institutions to a place of detention for youths between 16 and 21 for any sentence which carried a prison term.

Similar institutions (see reformatory) existed elsewhere, including several states of the US, but under different names, sometimes quite euphemistic such as "school for boys".

[edit] Borstal in the arts

[edit] Literature

Irish writer Brendan Behan wrote of his experiences in the borstal system in his 1958 book Borstal Boy.

In his 1959 book, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, Alan Sillitoe wrote about a boy's time in a Borstal for robbing a bakery.

In the short novel Lamb by Bernard MacLaverty, the plot follows an ex-teacher in a borstal called "the home" who runs away with one of the boys with the hope of saving him from the home's regime.

[edit] Music

  • The Faces wrote a song called Borstal Boys which featured on their 1973 album Ooh La La.
  • British punk band Sham 69 released a 1978 single called Borstal Breakout.

[edit] Film and television

In 1979 a film about the borstal system was made, called Scum, following on from a 1977 television play of the same name.

Borstal also featured in an edition of Chris Morris's Brass Eye entitled Crime, in which the original inmates of the borstal have continually failed their release tests and are now old men, still imprisoned.

There is a BBC television program (mostly shown on BBC3) called Dog Borstal, which is about badly behaved dogs.

[edit] Sources and references


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