Behind bars, future ahead – part 2

December 21, 2006

Opposite to a tavern a descreet wall, abundantly covered with vegetation. Thereon a inconsiderable plate that shows the way behind the wall: A gate. A huge gate. The sun is shining, autumn presents itself in its whole glory. A wall, but no towers, no razor wire. Welcome to Justizanstalt für Jugendliche Gerasdorf !

Gerasdorf is the only all-male prison for juvenile offenders in Austria. Established in 1970, the prison is designed for up to 134 inmates that are accomodate in single (100) or double cells. Currently, there are 127 detainees of 17 different nationalities, the youngest aged 15 and the oldest 26. All male juvenile offenders that are sentenced to at least six months in prison between the age of 14 to 18 are sent to Gerasdorf. People over 18 who were sentenced to many years of imprisonment are usually kept in Gerasdorf until not later than their 27th birthday, considering the state of the state of the education and the mental health of the respective person. In total 90 people are employed there, including 3 psychologists, 4 social workers, teachers, doctors, taskmasters, guards, etc.

According to the (female!) governor of the prison, the main focus of the work with the young inmates lays on

– teaching/vocational training

– expedient recreational activities

– therapeutical activities

The regime at Gerasdorf combines education, job training and social-life training. A prisoner serving a sentence is required to go to school and/or attend vocational training in one of 14 fields namely baker, barber, bricklayer, cabinetmaker, tinsmith, locksmith, mechanic, carbody producer, painter, gardener, electrician, cook, fully qualified waiter. During the two hours tour led by two experienced executives the participants had the opportunity to see the multitude of workshops and to speak to some trainees.

The daily schedule at Gerasdorf is tightly organised. People get up at 6:30 am, school/work starts at 7:30 am. Welcome to life behind bars… Work takes until 4 pm, interrupted by 3 breaks. From 4 pm to 6pm people are required to participate in leisuretime groups where both personality and occupational skills are promoted. During this time inmates take physical exercise (football, basketball, etc.) either open air or indoor or are individually looked after.From 6 pm to 8 pm at the latest people are free to enjoy freetime. Of course without alcohol!

To help the boys learn how to live in functional social groups, they live (with exceptions) in units of eight compatible boys in a group-living atmosphere. Each unit has single cells and two shared living spaces (a kitchen and a living room).

Inmates are allowed to have visits up to four times a week, with at least one lasting a full hour. Having served a certain portion of the sentence detainees are allowed to leave the prison for a certain time, depending on their behavior and their crime.

Gerasdorf focuses on developing the young person’s social, educational, vocational and behavioural skills that will allow him to lead a normal, drug-free life after release. Good social behaviour is rewarded with privileges. During lunch that was served and prepared by the detainees themselves, the staff psychologist explained that the education and training they receive in the prison should allow them to learn how to organise and manage leisure-time activities and work skills that will make life enjoyable without drugs or crime. Prison staff rewards the boys with approbation and friendly help with individual problems, while blaming bad behaviour and punishing it with withdrawal of privileges.

The psychologist emphasised that most young offenders have similar biographies: broken or dysfunctional homes, unsuccessful experiences of school, failure to get work, non-commitment and non-involvement in developing a life plan, developing uncontrollable habits of drugs abusage etc. In addition comes dependence on “wrong friends”.


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