Shenley hospital, the building used in 1979 for the borstal in Scum

A borstal was a type of youth prison in the United Kingdom, run by the Prison Service and intended to reform seriously delinquent young people. The word is sometimes used loosely to apply to other kinds of youth institution or reformatory, such as Approved Schools and Detention Centres. The court sentence was officially called "borstal training". Borstals were originally for offenders under 21, but in the 1930s the age was increased to under 23.

The Gladstone Committee (1895) proposed the concept, wishing to separate youths from older convicts in adult prisons. It was the task of Sir Evelyn Ruggles-Brise (1857–1935), a prison commissioner, to introduce the system, and the first such institution was established at Borstal Prison in a village called Borstal, near Rochester, Kent, England in 1902. The system was developed on a national basis and formalised in the Prevention of Crime Act 1908.

The regime in these institutions was designed to be "educational rather than punitive", but it was highly regulated, with a focus on routine, discipline and authority. Except in Northern Ireland, the only corporal punishment officially available in Borstal was the birch for mutiny or assaulting an officer, and this could be imposed only by the visiting magistrates, subject in each case to the personal approval of the Home Secretary, just as in adult prisons. Only male inmates over 18 might be so punished. This power was very rarely used – there were only 7 birching cases in borstals in the 10 years to 1936.

This birching power was available only in England and Wales (not in Scottish borstals).] Caning as a more day-to-day punishment was used in the single borstal in Northern Ireland but was not authorised in England, Scotland or Wales. Confusion on this matter arises perhaps because in Approved Schools, a quite different kind of youth institution based more on the open "boarding school" model, caning was a frequent official punishment for boys (maximum age 19). Borstal institutions were designed to offer education, regular work and discipline, though one commentator has claimed that "more often than not they were breeding grounds for bullies and psychopaths." Some uncorroborated anecdotal evidence exists of unofficial brutality, both by staff towards the inmates and between inmates – though possibly no more than is the case for the prison system as a whole.

The Criminal Justice Act 1982 abolished the borstal system in the UK, introducing youth custody centres instead.

A similar system under the name "borstal" had also been introduced in several other states of the British Empire and Commonwealth, including Ireland. In the Republic of Ireland the Criminal Justice Act, 1960 (Section 12) removed the term from use. This was part of a policy to broaden the system from reform and training institutions to a place of detention for youths between 17 and 21 for any sentence which carried a prison term.

Filming Locations for the borstal in ScumEdit


Shenley Hospital, ariel view

The 1979 film was filmed at Shenley Hospital in Hertfordshire.

The 1977 screenplay was filmed at Redhill Hospital in Surrey. Both were asylums.

See alsoEdit