The Representation of Young Offenders institutions is always negative Essay

It could be argued that there is an ideological necessity that young offenders institutions are shown as shocking places, this is primarily because of the government. This because the government help enforce the dominant ideology that crime does not pay. If the media were to promote the institutions as being an ‘all right’ place to go, where you can live a fairly comfortable life whilst being punished, society would be in uproar about the media promoting the idea. Showing that it was not that ‘bad’ and in fact more like a ‘holiday’. Despite this a lot of tabloid newspapers attempt to suggest this is the case.

The media highlight the bulk of negative incidents that have happened in some institutions, and then compile them all together to make the institution look a bad place based on conflict and not reform. Society needs to see the young offenders getting punished whilst being reformed at the same time.

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The majority of media texts created based on the institutions of Britain act as a deterrent to potential offenders and society in general. They all follow a similar structure, where a hierarch system is created within the inmates, with a shared resentment towards authority. Anyone who dares to challenge the hierarch system faces a violent attack or even death.

Many texts such as Scum, Scrubbers and Out of Control, have been created based on young offenders institutions throughout history. Despite this views in society have changed due to various events such as, the impact of feminism in the 1970’s and terrorist threats in 2000, the narrative structure of the texts are all fairly similar.

This is by having both characters that neglect the system and others that abide by it, thus the narrative becoming like a genre and appealing to a cult audience.

One of the most famous and disturbing texts is Scum (1979). It is a very controversial film written by Roy Minton and directed by Alan Clarke. It is about the lives of two men ‘trapped’ inside the Borstal system for young offenders.

Scum (1977) was originally written to be a one off television play for the BBC. Despite this, the BBC refused to screen the programme, believing that its violence and the way in which the young offenders institution had been represented could not be justified as ‘legitimate’ social comment. This was because the BBC believed the representation of the institution should have been slightly more reformed and should show that in-mates respect the legitimate authority rather than revolt from it.

Two years later the BBC’s rights to the script lapsed and Minton and Clarke remade the programme, shooting it as a film for Channel 4. The film was very similar to the BBC play, although the original involved one of the main characters; Carlin being shown to have a sexual relationship with one of the young inmates. This story line was dropped from the later film.

On its release Scum was seen as shocking and violent but also acclaimed as a ‘must see’ representation of the borstal system. The film has been screened on television rarely and due to this it has acquired ‘cult status’ through the video and DVD market.

Released in 1979, Scum tells the story of Carlin, played by Ray Winstone and Archer played by Mick Ford, in their own different ways, two rebellious men caught inside the Borstal system for young offenders.

The film begins with Carlin and two other relatively minor young offenders, being inducted into the borstal regime, after having been transferred from a lower tariff institution. Carlin has been involved in an assault on a member of staff at his previous institution and is identified by the receiving staff as a ‘tough-nut’ who needs slapping down.

Intimidated and assaulted by staff and inmates, Carlin becomes obliged to live up to his reputation as a ‘hard-case’ and prove himself. By mixing violence with violence he succeeds in becoming ‘The Daddy’. This role is represented as being some kind of perverse ‘head boy’. Carlin is expected to keep order and maintain the status quo in return for a few perks and privileges.

Carlin’s willingness to co-operate with the authorities is always because he has to rather than he wants to, he always remains to have a grudge towards the people above him. Whilst at the same time Archer (Mick Ford), plays the upper working class youth, too intelligent for the authorities, ‘engaged in an on-going war of resistance against the system’. (www.lss.uce.ac.uk/prisonfilm/scum.htm)

In Scum the system is the staff that run the system, and they are for the majority of the time, incompetent, uncaring and unimaginative. Order will be maintained within the institution by intimidation, with the outcome being various casualties.

Staff unresponsiveness leads to one attempted suicide and a male rape, which is overlooked by a staff member, leading to the suicide of the victim. The inmate group is shown to be divided, by both race and status within the institutional hierarchy, but they all have one thing in common; they all want to get out of the Borstal system and away from authority.

Scum presents a very cynical view on a borstal for young offenders. It highlights social issues that have been reported and exaggerates them. This style of text would shock society but also at the same time make them aware of what is happening. The film supports the dominant ideology of a young offender institution because it is what society wants and does not want to see. Although the audience may not want to see a male rape and incompetent staff it makes them aware of what may be happening. The audience needs to see a balancing act of both bad and good within the borstal walls. This is all in an attempt to crack down on crime committed by young offenders.

Viewers would assume that all institutions are like this; when this may not be the case. This could also worry people whose spouse or friends are in institutions and also society could judge people that have been in institutions based on their perceptions.

The narrative structure of the film is not typical to any specific genre. It covers a wide variety of issues and problems experienced by youths generally, and attempts to deal with them. Despite this, the film is not resolved in the end, creating no solution to the problems raised.

After Scum its ‘sister’ film was created Scrubbers (1983). Scrubbers is a film drama about a teenage women’s borstal. Its cast was made up of all unknown actresses and like Scum the film expressed the brutality of a borstal, not holding back on any of the graphic details. Some of the cast were advertised to have real experience of life in a women’s borstal, which would imply that the drama would be as realistic as possible.

Directed by Mai Zetterling and co written by Susannah Buxton, Roy Minton, Jeremy Watt and Mai Zetterling, Scrubbers explores what happens when a young girl is locked up and kept away from everyday life.

The drama is said to be a ‘ shocking yet compelling insight to life behind bars in a women’s detention centre.'(website). Scrubbers exposes a brutal society in which the strong survive and the weak are no match for the cruelties of the system and struggle to endure their full sentence.

A hierarchy system is present in the film and this causes most of the violence and uproar within the borstal itself. Like Scum, Scrubbers was separated by race and social stature but all the females’ resent authority. Towards the end of the film all of the females join together and cause a riot; there is pandemonium within the borstal and the authority figures lose control.

Through the hatred of lesbian Carol and immoral teenage mother Annetta, we follow the incessant violence; bitching and brawling that have made Britain’s borstals renowned for being, notorious breeding grounds for crime. This supports the argument that there is an obligation to show young offenders institutions as horrific places within media texts. Although it supports the argument the message given is not a very reassuring one for the audience, thus leaving them with doubts and disputes about the system.

From looking at Scrubbers there are many similarities with its ‘brother’ Scum. The basic narrative structure and the ideological views of borstals in general are once again replicated. There are definitely no connotations between Scrubbers being glamorous and being in a young women’s borstal is an easy life.

The film takes the worst social issues raised in the borstal system such as bullying and suicide and brings them into the social ‘limelight’. Although the issues are raised there is no sense of resolution throughout the film. The film cannot offer resolution because then it would be attempting to give the answers to real social problems and it would suggest that its solutions would really work. The audience would like to see some resolution but that would start to remove the reality aspect away form the text.

The film drama is shown to be ‘real life’; this done by using natural lighting and a realistic setting. Due to the realness of the film society could be lead to believe that, that is how real life borstals work. Of course these problems do occur but there is no evidence to suggest that they all occur, all the time, in all borstals over Britain.

Both Scrubbers and Scum were created within a short period of time, so they were both made within a very similar social era, which is probably why they appear to be so similar. Within the four years between the two films society would not of changed that dramatically and opinions would be pretty alike. Thus making the codes and conventions coming from both films the same.

In the 1970’s a lot was happening within the crime scene of Britain. The impact of feminism would have influenced the content of Scrubbers, as well as the appeals for ethnic recruits and allegations of racism in the Metropolitan police force all influencing Scum.

In 2002 Out of Control was broadcast on BBC1 as part of a ‘Cracking Down On Crime’ night, dedicated to programmes about how Britain can reduce crime and why crime was present. The docu-drama was described as being ‘a hard-hitting drama about life in youth custody.’ (The Observer Review)

Out of Control was Dominic Savages’ third documentary -drama. All of his previous docu – dramas have raised problems faced by teenagers in Britain such as teenage pregnancy and running away. All of Savages’ work has been based on the actors reactions to the situations proposed, scripts where not used. This is becoming a popular characteristic to many docu-dramas on television today.

There has undoubtedly been a huge growth in unscripted programmes, at the expense of factual programmes presented by means of a script. The use of natural dialogue has mushroomed on TV.’

( Stephen Lambert, Media Magazine.)

Out of Controls’ main issue being crime, it follows the story of two separate youths that end up in the same borstal, with one bullying the other to suicide.

The two main characters, Dean and Sam are from council housing estates where most people are seen to be uneducated and the youths stick to being in gangs to get by with estate life. The law and society play no role in their lives until authority catches them. The youths live in a place where no one cares so it is seen to be hard for him or her to turn into law-abiding citizens.

This is the reality of some estates around Britain but stereotyping and generalisation makes society believe that if you are from an estate you are bound to be trouble. The way that you walk, talk and dress can all lead to assumptions of where you come from. This also supports the argument raised, that the young offenders need to be represented as the lowest members of society.

The first main character that is introduced into Out of Control is fifteen-year-old Dean. He is both a quiet and na�ve young boy who is devoted to his mother (Tamzin Outhwaite). He has been in trouble before, but is determined to stay on the right track to please his mother. Soon enough his friend Charlie is asking Dean to come out and cause trouble, but Deans’ mother refuses to let him go out. This demonstrates resolution trying to be made and attempting to go against the argument but the dominant ideology overrules these attempts.

Charlie will not give up and eventually convinces Dean to go joyriding with him. The police catch only Dean and he is sent to the young offenders institution.

At the institution, two other new boys, Danny and Sam join him. Danny was an accomplice to Sam who performed an armed robbery, but he is desperate to lead a better life when he gets out of the institution. This once again contradicts the argument raised because Danny realises he has done wrong and is trying to redeem his self. Sam is a complete contrast; he represents one of the worst youths possible. To compensate slightly for his behaviour Savage includes Sam’s poor excuse of a life in which both of his parents have deserted him. This backs the stereotype that youths from broken families are more likely to cause trouble and become ‘scum’.

You would never find a middle-class character in an institution represented in Out of Control. ‘With money, comes respect and opportunity.’ (www.iofilm.co.uk) The main and preferred route out of the system is through redemption and a better person may come out of it, but this is not always the case.

Out of Control conveys the message that there are three routes you can go down once you are inside an institution. Suicide; Dean is bullied by Sam who is jealous of Deans relationship with his mother and it ends with Dean taking his own life because he ‘cannot take it.’ Redemption and resolution; Danny keeps his head down throughout his sentence and stays away from Sam. He becomes a proud father and gets a job at a supermarket attempting to get his life on track. Not changing; Sam remains a troublemaker throughout his sentence and when he finally gets out he goes back to his old ways this time as a solo act.

These three routes both support and appose the argument that there is an ideological necessity for young offenders institutions to be shown as dreadful places. This is because suicide and refusing redemption supports this dispute in that neither of these paths offers a solution and going to a young offenders institution has not helped neither of them at all. Although Dean was making the effort to redeem himself he still ended up worse off because of his fear and silence. Sam was a lost case before he went into the institution and it would take a lot for him to change, the audience are left to make their own assumptions about what will happen to him. Both these characters support the argument raised proving that there is a need for the institution to be shown as less than a ‘holiday camp’.

Danny on the other hand contradicts the argument by sticking up for himself and creating a life for him and his family once he got out of the institution. Un-like Scum and Scrubbers, Out of Control offers a character (Danny) that comes out of the institution a better person that has learnt by his mistake. This character offers a path that people would hope for the majority of young offenders in ‘the real world.’

Out of control offers the balance of good and bad that audiences want to see. Both violence and death is present within the young offenders institution and the audience know this, with out being shown graphic scenes of the unpleasant monstrosities. Also a resolution is offered contrasting with the dire out-comes.

From looking at and examining three texts with the same genre/ narrative it can be concluded that there is an ideological necessity for young offenders institutions to be shown as shocking places, although a balance needs to be met offering some resolution.

Neither Scum nor Scrubbers have characters come out of the institutions on a positive note, with a positive outlook ahead of them. These two seventies dramas support the proposed argument fully. But in contrast to this Dominic Savage’s modern, docu-drama offers a good balance whilst raising social issues at the same time.

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