Protesters up and down the country have taken to the streets, and a broad-based coalition has come together to fight the Tory government’s proposed Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. Groups have united against the authoritarian bill through which the Tories intend to crackdown on our right to protest, increase police powers, and criminalise Traveller communities and rough sleepers.
However, one disturbing element of the bill seems to have gone under the radar – government plans for ‘secure schools’. Concerned by this, the Coalition for Anti-Racist Educators (CARE) took to social media to shed light on what the proposed draconian bill will mean for youth ‘justice’.
The bill proposes to make setting up and running a secure school – in which children and young people will be held captive – a “charitable activity”. It also proposes harsher sentencing and additional surveillance of children and young people who are in trouble with the law.
What are secure schools?
Secure schools are part of the government’s plan to reform the UK’s youth justice system. Autonomous trusts will run these ‘schools’. The Ministry of Justice will have oversight, not the Department for Education. If implemented, the bill will “ensure that operating a secure school can be a charitable activity”, and encourage new “charitable” providers to expand the youth carceral state. The government claims that “secure school providers will take a child-focused and trauma-informed approach to youth custody”.
CARE highlighted that these plans will criminalise children and fail to deal with the root causes of their trauma. It also set out that secure schools will essentially be “a rebranded version of Young Offenders’ Institutions”:
Secure schools have been snuck into the policing bill… Yet another sinister way in which the government would rather pump money into locking people up, in this case children, instead of dealing with systemic social issues that cause trauma in the first place #KilltheBill pic.twitter.com/72xTs2Gpky
— CARE2Liberate (@CARE2Liberate) April 4, 2021
Setting out the dangers in the government’s secure schools model, No More Exclusions community organiser Jamal Khan shared:
Secure schools will be used to show that they’ve done everything they can to prevent crime/reoffending.
To shift blame onto the individual and divert attention from their own hesitation to improve the environment of the individual (4/7)
— Jamal Khan (@1JamalKhan) April 5, 2021
Author Lisa Cherry echoed this, saying:
A ‘trauma’ lens invites us to look at structural inequalities, inequity and social structures. A ‘mental health’ lens locates the problem within the individual as something that sits inside them, that the individual has. This narrative is everywhere I look. This must be resisted.
— Lisa Cherry (@_LisaCherry) April 6, 2021
Streamlining the UK’s school-to-prison pipeline
Oasis Charitable Trust’s new secure school will be situated where the Medway secure training centre once stood. The former centre has a long history of harrowing allegations of child abuse and mistreatment which were ignored for years. Raising concerns about the government’s focus on autonomy in its plans for secure schools, children’s rights charity Article 39 said:
Abuse suffered by children in secure training centres was *not* due to G4S & Serco managers having too little freedom. Yet autonomy is “key to the vision” for secure 16-19 academies (secure schools rebrand). This from Police, Crime, Sentencing & Courts Bill Explanatory Notes ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/EpdTAWLK2X
— Article 39 (@article_39) April 3, 2021
As Zoe Luba wrote in 2020, “Secure Schools are just one element of racial capitalism, locking up Black and other kids of color at vastly disproportionate rates.”
— CARE2Liberate (@CARE2Liberate) April 4, 2021
Quoting Zahra Bei’s response to the government awarding Oasis Charity Trust with the contract to run the UK’s first secure school in 2019, Labour MP Bell Ribeiro-Addy tweeted:
“the policy of rebranding youth jails as ‘secure schools’ provides a thinly veiled disguise for what in essence marks the start of the biggest children’s prison expansion programme in Britain.”
— Bell Ribeiro-Addy MP (@BellRibeiroAddy) April 5, 2021
Visualising the school-to-prison pipeline that plans for secure schools will help streamline, Kids of Colour director Roxy Legane shared:
Viewed as problem ➡️ non issue ➡️ behaviour hub ➡️ definitely now viewed as a problem ➡️ more hub time ➡️ more hub than class time, what a pain for us ➡️ exclude them ➡️ OH! Medway secure [prison] school 2022, thanks Oasis! ➡️ FFS they’re old now ➡️ prison
— Roxy Legane (@RoxyLegane) April 8, 2021
Kill the Bill
Other changes to youth justice in the proposed bill include harsher sentences and further surveillance of children and young people who are in trouble with the law. And it will likely be disproportionately used against children and young people who are already over-policed and under-protected. Namely children from Black and ethnic minority backgrounds, those eligible for free school meals, and children with special educational needs.
The government’s proposition to lock up children in the name of “charity” is yet another reason why we must continue to fiercely fight against the draconian bill.
Featured image via Paul Birrell/Wikimedia Commons