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Nipping Crime in the Bud: Back to the Future - 2/3

by Muriel Whitten author of Nipping Crime in the Bud. October 2010.

By the time it decided to establish a Reformatory Farm School experiment at Redhill in 1848, the Philanthropic Society had commenced specialising in the reformation of criminal boys. Its mode of operation also had attracted the attention of Home Secretary Sir George Grey who was keen to explore whether a union of state and voluntary effort could stem a rising tide of juvenile crime. Having been found to deliver good value for the public money expended on criminal boys sent to Redhill by Home Office Prison Inspectors, Sir George did not hesitate to appraise Parliament of the Reformatory Farm School's success in reducing re-offending. Its reformatory merits were likewise promoted by a zealous network of campaigners in pursuit of a less punitive statutory disposal for youthful offenders than that afforded by imprisonment. They included Charles Dickens, statesman William E. Gladstone and Mary Carpenter, all of whom journeyed to inspect the Reformatory Farm School, as did the Society's patron Prince Albert. When the Reformatory School Act was passed in 1854, its provisions embraced many of those tested by government in partnership with the Philanthropic Society. The Reformatory Farm School's Superintendent, the Reverend Sydney Turner, was appointed the first Home Office Inspector of Reformatories in 1857. That same year saw the Industrial Schools Act reach the statute books and provide for homeless and neglected children at risk, such as those taken under the Philanthropic Society's protection in earlier years.

By 1970, the buildings on the Redhill site comprised one of the largest residential campus establishments in the UK to which local authorities could refer young people in trouble. Yet by the early 1980s, as new ideas on community care gained hold and cuts in government funding imposed restrictions on referrals, the trustees of the now Royal Philanthropic Society (RPS) found their charitable resources tied-up in maintaining very few boys. Having decided to sell the Redhill property and put the proceeds to use in innovative ways, the RPS consulted with other longstanding charities, such as the Coram Family, Barnardo's and Action for Children, whose residential services had also retracted. Finding gaps in provision for vulnerable young people leaving local authority care, it then took its first steps into the community by developing supportive schemes in partnership with housing associations and social services departments. Together with juvenile justice agencies, it also initiated bail support schemes for young offenders who might otherwise have been remanded from court into custody.

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