On this day in history : 16th October 1902 – In the village of Borstal, in Kent, a detention centre for young offenders is opened…. It is the first of several such custodial institutions, which become known as borstals….

Young offenders in the schoolroom at Borstal (now known as Rochester Prison), circa 1906 – Public domain

It was in 1895 that the Gladstone Committee first proposed the concept of the ‘borstal’ – seeing a need to separate young people from the influence of older convicts in adult prisons…. Those under the age of 16 were already segregated after the introduction of Industrial Schools, a new reformatory system to correct wayward behaviour as an alternative to prison…. The Gladstone Committee sought to find a solution for those in the 16-21 age group….

An experimental scheme was conducted at Bedford Prison commencing in 1899…. This was then extended to a part of the existing prison in Borstal; the new institution being kept entirely separated from the main adult prison…. The young inmates were given physical exercise, schooling and training for future work…. The skills taught included trades such as brick-laying, carpentry, farming, agriculture, metalwork and cookery…. Sentences were generally between two and three years, with supervision after discharge….

The Prevention of Crime Act 1908 saw the scheme come officially into force; in 1910 a second institution was established at Feltham and was then followed by others, including Portland…. The first for girls was opened in Aylesbury in 1909 and offered training in skills such as housework, cookery, laundry, sewing, gardening and farming….

Aylesbury Prison, where the first Borstal for girls was established – Public domain

Discipline was strict but with corporal punishment used only as a last resort…. Other punishments such as withdrawal of privileges, docked wages, reduction of food rations and confinement were implemented instead…. The birch could only be imposed by a visiting magistrate and was only ever administered to males over the age of 18…. In the ten year period between 1926-36 it was only used on 7 occasions…. Caning was used in Northern Ireland but was not authorised in England, Scotland and Wales…. Borstals should not be confused with approved schools, which were a different type of youth correction institution, based more on boarding schools – the cane was used in approved schools….

The Criminal Justice Act 1982, officially abolished the borstal system in the UK, being replaced by youth custody centres, or detention centres…. Since the 1960s and 1970s the old borstal system had been viewed as out dated…. In 1972 Community Order sentences began to appear – with offenders undertaking unpaid work to provide services for the benefit of the community….

One thought on “On this day in history….16th October 1902

  1. Hi Hazel, another interesting and well written article , I hadn’t realised where the name Borstal came from. It would seem to be very forward thinking at the time trying to give the young offenders a trade and hopefully keep them out of a life time of crime. It would be interesting to see how successful this was in comparison with the current system……..


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