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Leeds Beckett academic awarded grant to research borstals


A reader at Leeds Beckett University has been awarded a BA/Leverhulme grant for a pilot project looking into life in borstals. The pilot project is the starting point for the first full first study of the borstal system and its young inmates.


The traditional age for those at borstal was 16 to 21 years old (increased to 23 in the 1930s) – today they are young adult prisoners and are often perceived as a problem for both society and government. They are over-represented in prisons and their re-offending rates are high.

Explaining why she has chosen to research borstals, Leeds Beckett University reader, Dr Heather Shore. said: “There is a considerable gap in our understanding of how young people, aged 16 to 23, have been dealt with by the Criminal Justice System. The history of Borstal is a surprisingly neglected area in academic study.

“I’ll be focusing on getting evidence of inmates’ experience of the borstal system as well researching selected institutions in the National Archive, The National Justice Museum and local record offices across the country. The institutions to be researched in the project include the first borstal which opened in Kent in 1902, Feltham in West London which changed to a Borstal in 1910 and Aylesbury, a girl’s borstal that also opened c. 1910.”

In the longer-term, this research will lead to the first full study of the borstal system from its establishment in 1902 to its abolition in 1982 and has the potential to attract significant interest from the Home Office and policy groups.”

Titled Borstal Lives: Young People, Crime and Institutionalisation in Twentieth-Century England and Wales, the research has three main objectives:

  • To assess the scope and availability of records and investigate the feasibility of an extended research project on the history of Borstal institutions and the Borstal Training Programme.
  • Considering the extent to which the system was influenced by the earlier success of the reformatory school establishment of whether it developed in more distinct ways and the extent to which Borstal can be defined as a reformatory or punitive institution.
  • To contribute to historical and current policy debates, by disseminating the research in academic, public and policy forums.

The collection of data will take place between 1 April and 31 December 2017 and publication and completion of the final report is expected in 2018.

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