I've just come across the post here and was compelled to put an alternative argument.
I was part of the team who worked with the lads and yes, Mr Fry you have missed something, quite a lot unfortunately.
It's very easy to dismiss such programmes as perverse, but did you actually watch any of the TV coverage or understand the reasons for doing the programme?
The re-offending rate at Portland was an atrocious 75% and the governor was prepared to do something controversial and different to help reduce that.
The feedback I have had on the lads involved who have subsequently been released is very positive and the re-offending rate is dramatically down. Without wishing to condone any of their previous behaviour, most of these lads made a stupid mistake at a point in time which ended up with their incarceration. Anyone on this post ever made a stupid mistake at any time through a lack of self control? Yep, thought so.
As far as intelligent articulate TV is concerned, you only get what the editor decides is "good telly" but a number of simple and powerful techniques have been employed to try and reduce the propensity to break law.
Our input was in the area of Anger Management, where the lads learnt experientially how to control themselves in high octane frightening circumstances. This stuff really works - for kids to full blown adults as testified by people from all walks of life that we work with.
Anyone can get involved in high jinks or react instantly to abuse with unintended consequences . This can go awfully and sometimes tragically wrong.
How many people do you know who will admit to road rage? One of your best friends might drive a 2 tonne 4 x 4 and nearly wipe whole families because of a rude gesticulation given on the motorway?
The lads often lacked a loving stable background and so migrated to where they did get at least something that appeared to be a support network. Once there how easy would it be to have the courage, self esteem and strength to handle saying no - and even have an alternative to go to?
We for our part were trying to instill skills that would assist them in doing the right thing once released. I and my colleague Malcolm are proud of how we helped these lads and considered that they worked hard to learn the skills because they very much did not want to return to Portland.
HMYOI Portland is not a pleasant place. No-one is knifing anyone to become a football star. One lad on the programme who did have an academy place with a major football team and a bright future blew his career because he knifed someone. He lost control in a split second and regrets every day his awful actions. How many people do you know who don't control their anger very well?
Portland have since gone on to do other Rugby-based programmes without the media attention and big name personality - this is also bearing fruit.
There are many progressive organisations who don't subscribe to the "off with their balls" black and white attitude and turn lives (and sometimes communities) around. Often these don't make such “good telly” unfortunately. You will however know their venerable names including The Prince's Trust and many others, larger and smaller.
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