Like the best documentaries, offers no easy answers but is still compelling and thought-provoking viewing
STAR RATING: ***** The Works **** Just Misses the Mark *** That Little Bit In Between ** Lagging Behind * The Pits
There has been a significant increase in the number of young people sent to young offenders institutions within the last few years. A older, more mature documentary maker visits a couple of institutions to interview several young offenders and get their stories on why they're inside and their views as regards understanding why what they did was wrong, remorse and whether being institutionalized is helping to change them.
Over 25 years ago, the powerful film Scum revealed the harsh conditions inside the borstals and prompted prominent MPs into action. Yet here is a real, fairly fly-on-the-wall depiction of the situation today. There doesn't seem to be anything particularly glamorous about life on the inside but there doesn't seem to be anything that is off-putting enough to make offenders not want to go back either.
We have a teenage girl who walked the streets drunk and angry punching people in the face, kicking them when they were on the ground and just becoming more agitated when they pleaded for mercy. We have a member of a gang of car thieves who banded together with his mates and beat the owner of a car outside his own home so badly he needed metal rods placed in his jaw for the rest of his life just for defending his property. We have Nyall (the only one who's name I can remember!) a cocky Geordie lad who burglarized people's property and invaded their most personal space just for the thrill of it. And, most seriously, we have a violent street robber who, fuelled by drugs and a sense of resentment to life for his brother's death, mugged people on the streets and at bus stops and even stabbed a man. And a guy who was involved in setting a guy alight and almost killing him.
The girl says the alcohol played no part in making her do what she did, but it's shockingly horrific to think that a female could be responsible for this sort of behaviour without at least some sort of mind altering substance having something to do with it. Nyall shows the least remorse for his crimes and even cockily tries to justify them by using the old 'my victims can always just claim on the insurance' line. I remember reading extracts from Jeffrey Archer's time in prison once and how a prison officer told him that, in a prison full of murderers, rapists, paedophiles and drug dealers, the one criminal he hated the most was burglars simply due to the total lack of empathy and remorse they show to their victims and if he's anything to go by, I can see what he means. It says a lot that just two weeks and three days after he is released, he is back inside for thieving yet again. The right-wing conservative-thinking will say this is due to the prison system not being punishing enough and the left-wing liberal thinking will say imprisoning people at such a young age institutionalizes them for life, but this is a debate the film raises and one which you'll have to make your mind up for yourself. The prison staff seem very friendly and reasonable, as opposed to the barking brutes portrayed in Scum, certainly. On the other end of the scales, despite having committed one of the most serious crimes, the street robber shows the most remorse and does appear genuinely sorry for his crimes, not just putting it on to try and get his long sentence reduced. Going back to the Archer thing, the officer also said that murderers (or attempted murderers as you could call this guy) were the nicest people to talk to and tended to show the most genuine remorse and he obviously knew what he was talking about. The final bloke emerges as the stupidest, essentially throwing a large chunk of his life away because somebody wouldn't clear up a Pot Noodle!
Two things connect all these kids. With the possible exception of Nyall and the street robber, they all seem rather poorly educated and have trouble conveying themselves properly. The other is that all of them have committed crimes that couldn't be punished in any way other than imprisonment. Community service or a fine wouldn't be enough for what these kids have done. This is one of the film's failings in that it only zooms in on these most serious of offenders and it would have been more interesting to see a selection of some serious offenders, some not so serious offenders (those who haven't payed fines, drug possession, etc.) The film is stabbing at the YOI being over-populated and it would have swung it's case more in favour if this had been the case, I feel. The film-maker appears very compassionate and open-minded, obviously an older guy with a lot of experience who fronts his project well. In a style similar to Scum (that may even have been copied from it!) there is no soundtrack and this conveys things in a darker, more deeper manner.
Like the best documentaries, it offers no easy answers and it shoots itself in the foot with it's 'the prison system is over-populated' message, but it does provide some serious food for thought which-ever way your opinion swings and is a very interesting and thought-provoking piece all the same. ****
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