The Choice is Yours: reflections from the director

The Choice Is Yours§As a result of one of our Schools of Participation, a group of ex-offenders in Salford have made a powerful short film called The Choice Is Yours. We asked Glyn Treharne, the film-maker they worked with, to share his reflections on making the film.

Here’s the film:

Is it right that we lock up young people in prison, or is there an alternative to a custodial sentence? This was my thought when I was asked to make a video for the Positive Changes group.

This was a group of ex-offenders who had come together through a Church Action on Poverty School of Participation, and now wanted to make a film that would discourage young people from embarking on a life of crime. The group would come up with the scenario and be available to work as actors/narrators; I would do the rest. However, the main thrust of the film was to involve a young lad whose actions would lead to a prison sentence.

The story they produced, in which the lad is persuaded to join a gang of youths who accidentally set fire to a disused garage, did not seem to me to provide a realistic basis for a story in which Adam, the lad, is imprisoned. I suggested that I contact the Salford Youth Offending Team, and ask their advice. At a later date I went along to see them, with  Joyce Kay, the link worker. We were able to gain invaluable insight into youth crime. It was suggested by Kay Davidson, Principal Manager for the Youth Offending Services, that knife crime would be the most suitable offence to use in the video, as this was almost certain to produce an automatic custodial sentence.

The filming I found to be a very interesting process, I needed to both listen to the needs of the group and also be able to produce a film that would be relevant to the young audience it was aimed at. I felt that in the end I was only able to scratch the surface of this issue. The ‘crime’ depicted in the video was a violent one, but Adam had never been in trouble before – was there an alternative sentence? In our story this led to Adam being involved in a life of crime – would this have been avoided had a more understanding approach been taken to Adam’s predicament?

Through their research the Howard League for Penal Reform have concluded that “youngsters involved in persistent and serious offending are amongst the most vulnerable groups of people in our society“. They argue “justice for children and young people cannot be delivered unless their broader needs are addressed in ways that are not stigmatising and criminalising“.

It is also important to realise that children can enter the criminal justice system from the age of 10, so there is work to be done looking at the concerns that this aspect generates.

Youth crime is nothing new, and I realise that the video I have produced with the participation of the Positive Changes group, which is intended to be available to youth clubs and schools, can only address some of the worries I have mentioned in this blog. Hopefully I will be able to work on other films that can get in touch with these other aspects.

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