A prison worker has stepped back in time to help run a 1930s borstal for young offenders in a new prime-time ITV series.
Sally Wentworth-James, from Ditchling, appears in a new four-part programme called Bring Back Borstal.
Sally, 51, who educates offenders in prisons, designed and taught an educational curriculum for the show while cameras filmed her teaching 14 troubled young men who signed up for regime.
“I stayed in costume and character all the time,” she said.
“There was no larking about with the lads between scenes. I was always Miss James. I soon forgot the cameras were on and it felt real. These were real lads with real problems and futures to think about.
“This was a genuine experiment, not Big Brother-style entertainment.
“I have never done anything like this before but I was attracted to it because it felt pertinent to what I have seen going on in prisons today, the move towards proper education and rehabilitation.”
The programme explores how today’s young offenders respond to the 1930s Borstal regime which was based on a busy schedule of physical and purposeful activity.
She said: “I thought it would all be set up and I would be told what to do but I was given carte blanche to completely design the curriculum and teaching methods, based around four themes for the different episodes. Staff and learners responded as they would have in real life.”
The offenders have 60 convictions between them and some had been to prison, although Sally did not know anything about them other than their educational history and whether any of them had worked before.
“What soon became clear was that they were all very bright boys who had been let down by the system,” said Sally.
“They felt they had failed at school, blown their only chance.”
Although she never felt in danger, Sally said there were difficult moments.
She said: “The first week was very tough. It reminded them all of what they hadn’t liked about school. The discipline was tough, they were fighting it. I instilled strong boundaries.
“Generally, they showed a great deal of respect. By the end, they were policing themselves.
“I treated them like adults and they started to behave more like adults.”
Sally said she was amazed at the transformation by the end of the programme.
“Some of those who finished it have gone into education. One was homeless and is now at a residential college to study an access course and applying for a degree in criminology. Two went on to do business studies and are setting up an enterprise together.
“A lot of what I saw resonated with what I see going on in prisons today.”
Episode one of Bring Back Borstal can be seen on ITV on January 8 at 9pm.