GIRLS on the road to becoming serious offenders are being sent to jail.
But they are not serving time – they are going on visits as part of a new scheme to help them see the error of their ways.
Young women from Kirklees who are on acceptable behaviour contracts for anti-social behaviour are being taken on visits to see what life is like behind bars at New Hall women’s prison at Flockton.
The scheme, being run by Kirklees Council’s Anti-Social Behaviour Unit and New Hall, aims to discourage those in the early stages of bad behaviour from a life of crime.
So far, four young women from Dewsbury and Huddersfield have visited the jail’s Rivendell Unit for female juvenile offenders.
The scheme has generated so much attention that other local authorities and agencies are referring their young women to New Hall.
There have been 12 visits from young women from across the north.
During the two-hour visits, young women see the routine of prison, undergo a mock security check, visit Rivendell’s three wings, spend time in a cell alone and speak to inmates.
Wayne Clayton, Senior Officer, Rivendell Unit, said: “We give young women committing anti-social behaviour an honest insight into life inside.
“We explain to them there’s no MSN, no mobile phones, no jewellery or hats and all cigarettes are taken off you and destroyed.
“You can’t see your mates and you’re stuck in a room on your own for some of the time.
“They spend 10 minutes in a cell to get a feel for solitary confinement.
“Quite a few young women on the visits come with attitude but afterwards they become more pensive and quiet.
“It gives them a chance to reflect on their future if they continue on the road they are on.
“Sometimes they speak to inmates who all tell them, without being prompted, the same thing: whatever you do, don’t end up behind bars.
“We tell them, ‘You’ve got a choice about where your life can take you. Make sure you don’t select this route’.
“We hope to stop them from taking the next step in offending. If we can prevent just one young person from that, then this initiative has been worth it.”
The scheme was the brainchild of Bill Swap, Kirklees Anti-Social Behaviour co-ordinator.
He said: “This makes young people in the early stages of committing anti-social behaviour think, raises awareness of the consequences of their actions and shows the impact on their life if their behaviour escalates.”
He said there have already been success stories.
One young woman being dealt with by the anti-social behaviour unit was very abusive and her school attendance was poor.
Mr Swap said: “The prison scheme visit really opened her eyes. You could see the impact on her. Her behaviour has really improved and she has settled back into school.”
The scheme began in autumn last year.
Clr Andrew Marchington, chairman of Kirklees Safer Stronger Communities Partnership, welcomed the initiative.
He said: “Preventing young people progressing along the path to crime and anti-social behaviour has major benefits for them, their families and the people whose lives they affect”.