The Youthlab is an initiative of Young in Prison in which seven young ex-offenders develop ideas for alternative punishments. Their findings, presented on 16th October 2015, were well received.On Friday 16th October 2015 Dutch policy makers, young ex-offenders, professionals and international innovators working on solutions for youth in conflict with the law gathered to exchange experiences, collaborate, and develop ideas in the stakeholder lab. The Youthlab kicked off the day by presenting their ideas of the ideal punishment from the perspective of former young offenders. Youthlab
“We have to listen to youth when they have made mistakes”, said 26-year-old Stephanie. Stephanie is one of 7 young ex-offenders that presented their ideas on how to change the correctional services in the Netherlands to reduce recidivism. Over the course of 6 weeks they used their experiences with the judicial system to design their ideal punishment. Herman Bolhaar, Head of Public Prosecution, politician Marith Volp (PvdA), and Esther Overweter, director of juvenile prison Teilingereind were present to hear these ideas and exchange their thoughts with the youth, with 80 policy makers and professionals working with youth in conflict with the law in attendance.
The youth underlined the need for a correctional system to intervene when the law has been broken, but also gave ideas on how it can be done differently. Stefan said: “an important thing in punishment is reparation. Not through a long punishment, but through the rehabilitation of the youth.” Dja explained trust is an issue in juvenile prisons: “my first times in prison didn’t help me because I could not be honest: I learned through experience that being honest would bring me more trouble.” Thus, trust is a key ingredient in creating a safe environment in which growth can take place. Dja continued: “I needed to be understood, to know that they looked at me instead of at the rules and protocols. I needed them to ask, what does Dja need?” Malcolm underlined the need youngsters have for personal development: “I needed a chance at good education and to get to know myself better. I needed a chance to become a better person.”
Esther Overweter: “It made me quiet, i'm very impressed.”
Answering the question, what do you need when you first come to prison, Jer responded: “I had to find myself again. I needed the storm in my head to clear.” Stefan said: “I needed peace and quiet but at the same time a kick in the butt.” Shailish emphasised the difficulty youth have to open up and recognise they need help: “at first you think you don’t need anything, but really you need someone who has been in the situation you are in now. Stephanie adds: “You need someone who will tell you, prison is not a final destination. It will get better. Most of all, I needed to be listened to, by someone that would persevere. Even if you don't get through the first, second or third time, you can never give up trying.”
“In an ideal prison you would have to earn everything you get,” said Malcolm, “to appreciate what you have,” added Moreno. Malcolm continued: “in the ideal situation you would talk to your victim, because mutual understanding can take away the fear of the victim.” Stefan wants to reduce the seperation inside and outside of prison: “we need to bring employers and other members of civil society in contact with young offenders while they are in prison, to avoid the barrier when they leave. The youngsters need to use their time in prison to prepare for a better life outside.”
Marith Volp: “the message is clear: we have to listen to the youth. To continue this discussion, I'd like to invite the Youthlab to talk in parliament!”
Dja and Stephanie think punishment in phases is a good idea. They believe a punishment should be designed to motivate you to move forward. Dja: “in our ideal prison you can win things that are useful for rebuilding your life. Nowadays with good behavior you are given something like a Kinder Bueno. In our ideal prison you win privileges that prepare you for an independent life outside. For example, you can move from prison to having your own room outside. There are still many rules you have to abide by living in these rooms, so it is not completely free. Yet you get a chance to prove yourself and practice.”
Esther Overweter reacted to the presentation saying: “it made me quiet, i'm very impressed.” She further noticed that the youth are strikingly strict to themselves. She loved the idea of detention in phases - from completely locked up to more and more responsibility and independence. She wants more variety in forms of youth detention: “and we need to show more courage. We too get a second chance to do better!”
Esther Overweter: “you said you needed a buddy with experiential knowledge when you came out of prison. I need one too. Who wants to become my buddy?”
"For me the biggest learning curve is that we have to take each other seriously", said Herman Bolhaar. We need to create opportunities for youth who show they want to do better. And we need professionals who dare to look further than the protocols, at the intention of the rules. He concluded that he would like to invite the youth to the Public Prosecution office to continue the conversation.
Marith Volp said she thought it was courageous that the youth were preapred to show their faces and share their ideas with the public. This can help reduce the fear that prison staff have for the young offenders. She said, “the message is clear: we have to listen to the youth. To continue this discussion, I'd like to invite the Youthlab to talk in parliament!”
Esther Overweter asked the Youthlab to become involved with Teylingereind through the youth advisory commission: “you said you needed a buddy with experiential knowledge when you came out of prison. I need one too. Who wants to become my buddy?”Youthlab recommendations (Dutch)notitie van bevindingen Youthlab.pdfYouthlab in de mediaPauwTrouwNRC