Blue Coat School 4/2/2004
My friend Bill is a Prison Chaplain, a clergyman who doesn't have a parish church to look after, but spends his days trying to care for the prisoners and staff of a big city jail.
He was telling me about Tim, a young man he first saw in one of the long grey corridors of the prison's Young Offender Wing. Looking lost and forlorn, Tim seemed too young to be in such an menacing place. At 15 years of age it wasn't his first time in trouble, but it was the first time he had been remanded in custody. Bill thought he looked very vulnerable there.
Tim was one of many young offenders who didn't receive a custodial sentence when they were dealt with by the court, but who nevertheless got sent to prison.
Tim, not even old enough legally to leave school, found his new surroundings intimidating and difficult to cope with as he waited for his trial. Bill sat with him in his cell as Tim told him his story. He spoke in non-stop sentences which showed Bill how nervous and anxious he was. His parents had divorced and Tim didn't get on with his mother's new partner. He spent more and more time on the streets, getting involved with joy-riding when he was 11 years old.
As he carried on offending Tim became even more alienated from his family and his school. He got into drugs, began to rely on them and within a short time of his fourteenth birthday he was heavily involved in theft in order to pay for his 'habit'. Eventually, when repeated cautions from the police had failed, and when he had stolen from his mother, Tim was arrested and remanded in custody. When Bill met him Tim was waiting, in an environment not likely to do him any good, but very likely to cause him harm, mental, physical, emotional.
The Criminal Justice Act of 1991 introduced provisions which should have brought an end to all remands of juveniles into prison custody. It hasn't happened yet. There are nowhere near enough places available in secure accommodation for the numbers of juveniles on remand.
Bill says that when Tim, and others like him, are held in prison accommodation, they're likely to face emotional trauma, physical or emotional abuse, long-term psychological damage. Bill has noticed how people Tim's age have less in common with young men in their late teens than people might realise.
18- and 19-year olds often despise them, resenting them for their childishness, and so they intimidate them. Over the years, Prison Inspectors have said that the number of juveniles kept within prisons was 'the most disturbing aspect' to come out of their inspections.
Gracious God, slow to anger and of great goodness, we express our frustrations at the inadequacies of 'systems' which fail to reflect the needs of your people. We pray for fairness and justice in our prison system. In a damaging world, unstable and confusing, we pray for the young held in prison, that damage may be limited; that meaning may be kindled, and self-worth fostered; that the failures of the past may be seen as a chance for a new beginning.
Talk based on Junveniles in William Noblett: Prayers for People in Prison.