A first-hand look at life behind bars
Bradford Centre of Excellence looks to turn youths away from crime
Bradford’s leaders have taken a proactive step in the fight against youth crime after opening the city’s first Centre of Excellence in Girlington last week.
The site, which features in-house mock jail cells, a court and living area, has been developed as part of the city’s pledge to do more to prevent ‘at risk’ young members of society turning to crime.
Based at Girlington Community Centre, the facilities will be used by a range of community organisations, as well as some schools.
Former criminal ‘Naz’ is one of the people who will be utilising the site alongside his organisation ‘Con-Sequence’ which works with young people to deter them from a life of crime.
Having been handed a nine-year prison sentence for a drug related offence at the age of just 21, he has seen first-hand what life is like behind bars and wants people to understand the ‘harsh realities’ of what prison is really like.
“When you are in prison you are on your own,” the now 34-year-old said. “There is no back up and the realisation of what you have given up all comes crashing down on you.
“When I was serving my time, I made the decision to turn my life around and thankfully got involved with the Prince’s Trust which helped me a lot.
“After my release, I began working in schools and talking with young people about the harsh realities of crime. I see it as my debt to society, to warn the next generation and to make sure they keep on the right path in their lives.”
He added: “I am over the moon to see a centre like this open in Bradford. It will be a huge benefit for a number of organisations and I can’t wait to use these facilities.”
Naz also worked with the local MAGIC (Manningham and Girlington Influencing Change) project upon his release from prison in 2008, with the new Centre of Excellence seen as a further ‘step-up’ from that successful initiative.
The centre will provide a permanent base for organisations to use and will walk them through the journey of a life of crime, from the initial illegal act itself, to home life, then court and finally to prison.
Cllr Imran Hussain, deputy leader of Bradford Council, was a driving force behind the initiative, securing funds for its development and helping to build up the concept from the ground.
At the launch event on Thursday 19th February, he said he was delighted to see the doors open and believes it will be a big asset to the community.
“The reason we set up this Centre of Excellence is to eliminate any false ideas that young people may have which suggest a life of crime can be ‘glamorous’ or ‘beneficial’,” Cllr Hussain said.
“This is an innovative landmark project which will aim to draw back ‘at-risk’ young people from the cliff edge by working with former offenders, community organisations and the police.
“Building off the success of past projects such as MAGIC, this is a unique way of giving the youth an insight into truths of what prison life, and the stages before that, is really like.”
Police and Crime Commissioner for West Yorkshire, Mark Burns-Williamson, added: “This is another great example of work being done in local communities to deter youth crime.
“Money from my Safer Communities Fund has been invested into this project and I hope it will become a very successful one as the facilities are utilised.”