Two years after the idea for ‘secure schools’ for young offenders was first mooted, the Ministry of Justice has appointed Oasis to be responsible.
The Medway young offenders centre, will be closed and re-developed before opening as the UK’s first Secure School in autumn 2020.
Oasis, a not-for-profit charity, has been appointed to place education, healthcare and rehabilitation at the heart of youth custody system there.
“We believe in second chances’, said Rev Steve Chalke, Founder and Leader of Oasis. ‘We have no greater purpose than offering restoration to those who have experienced exclusion. Over the past 35 years, we have learnt that as we treat every human being as of unique value – recognising their intrinsic worth and potential – real, radical and lasting change is possible.
“We welcome enthusiastically the opportunity to partner with the Ministry of Justice and take responsibility for the UK’s first Secure School. Oasis has long provided housing for vulnerable young adults and over the last decade we have partnered with communities across the country providing education that has enabled many young people and their families to overcome the obstacles life has thrown at them and meet their potential.
As well as providing a challenging and redemptive environment for young offenders, we are looking forward to integrating our work into our wider community activities, providing opportunities to support our secure school students long after they leave our care, so aiding their reintegration into community and reducing re-offending rates.’
In 2016 an undercover TV investigation into life inside the Medway youth jail that was then run by G4S resulted in a BBC Panoroma programme which led to a police investigation and the then justice secretary Michael Gove removing G4S’ contract.
Plans for the development of secure schools have been in the pipeline since a 2016 report from Charlie Taylor, chairman of the Youth Justice Board, warned that children in existing public sector youth offender institutions received an average of only 15 hours of education a week. He said that the ambition should be double that but that this was being prevented by ‘staff shortages and rising levels of violence’.
Oasis will be responsible to both the MoJ and the Department for Education and has ambitious plans to create a high quality and holistic service focusing on all aspects of each student’s well-being including their physical, mental and emotional health, all within the context of a secure and safe environment.
Chalke added that ‘We believe that every young person is capable of change and of making more positive choices about their life and their future. Therefore, our emphasis will be wholly on rehabilitation and restoration rather than retribution. From the very beginning of their stay with us, we will work with them to begin to prepare for their resettlement back into community to make an ongoing positive contribution to society in the future.’