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Christian charity puts redemption at the heart of youth custodial system
Two years after the idea for ‘secure schools’ for young offenders was first mooted, the Ministry of Justice has appointed Oasis to be responsible for the pilot project.
The Medway Young Offenders Centre, will be closed and then re-developed before opening as the UK’s first Secure School in autumn 2020.
In 2016 an undercover TV investigation into life inside the Medway youth jail, which 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 the G4S contract.
Oasis, a not-for-profit charity, has now been appointed to run it as well as to place education, healthcare and successful rehabilitation at the very heart of youth custody system there.
Rev Steve Chalke MBE, Founder and Leader of Oasis says, “We believe in second chances. 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.
“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.”
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.
Oasis is a group of charities that have been pioneering models of sustainable and holistic community development for the last 35 years. Wherever the charity works, it serves and respect all people regardless of their gender, race, ethnic origin, religion, age, sexual orientation or physical and mental capability through the pursuit of its two global goals:
· To build, and to help others build, strong inclusive communities where every person can find their place, flourish and achieve their potential
· To work with those who find themselves outside of a healthy community to find their place once again
Oasis does this through a wide variety of integrated, high quality and diverse activities and partnerships. To that end, Oasis delivers housing, education, healthcare, training, youth work, family support and many other community initiatives.
Currently Oasis works in 42 local neighbourhoods in England and another 26 in various other countries around the world – in Europe, Asia and Africa.
Today, in England Oasis has over 7,000 staff, as well as many more thousands of volunteers. Oasis is responsible for 52 schools, 30,000 students and for working with more than 1,000 homeless or vulnerably housed young adults each year. (In fact, the first project that Oasis ever established – and still runs – is a housing project for 16 young single homeless women aged 16-21 with medium to high support needs in South London).
It also runs a wide variety of other community building projects and initiatives; everything from foodbanks to debt advice centres, savings clubs to credit unions, city farms to community shops, breakfast clubs to adult literacy courses, children’s centres to refugee housing, libraries to football teams and health projects in partnership with the NHS to employment initiatives, as well as much more.