Thursday, October 22, 2015

New Word Thursday: borstal

By the end of the nineteenth century, many people were beginning to take a closer look at the ethics and repercussions of child labor. They started to think that maybe children shouldn't be expected work like grown-ups.

The recognition that children and adults should be treated differently extended to other areas, too, including the prison system. At the end of the 1800s in the United Kingdom, authorities in Her Majesty's Prison Service thought that perhaps juvenile delinquents ought to be separated from the adult prison population and given a better chance to rehabilitate.

The Gladstone Committee first proposed the idea in 1895, and in 1902, the first juvenile delinquency center (or centre — this is the UK, after all) was established at Borstal Prison in the village of Borstal, in Kent.

This photo was taken just minutes before
this juvenile delinquent held up
three liquor stores, two banks,
and a Chuck E. Cheese's.

This educational (rather than punitive) arrangement worked — or at least the powers that be believed it did — and the system was formalized and expanded nationally with passage of the Prevention of Crime Act of 1908. Individual juvenile centres were generically called borstals (or, in India, borstal schools), and their inmates were officially sentenced to "borstal training."

Over time, the word borstal came to be used more generically to refer to many types of juvenile rehabilitation centres.

In America, of course, we don't have borstals; we have juvie and a less interesting story.

British English speakers probably won't be using borstal for too much longer, though. The borstal system was abolished by the Criminal Justice Act of 1982. Juvenile delinquents are now sentenced to up to 96 straight hours of amateur productions of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Starlight Express. Juvenile criminal activity has plummeted.
But seriously, the government replaced the borstal system with "youth custody centres," which, one hopes, take advantage of the century's worth of child psychology research since the first borstal opened.