True Vision

films that make a difference

Kids Behind Bars

Kids Behind Bars
Back to ‘Our Films’
90 minutes
Brian Woods & Kate Blewett
Brian Woods & Kate Blewett

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Hidden away in the very darkest corners of countries that would rather not acknowledge their existence, there is an army of children whose voices are never heard. They can be raped, tortured, beaten and murdered by adults who supposedly represent the law, yet enjoy almost total immunity from it. These barbaric acts are committed in the name of justice.

Children are tortured in police custody. They are held in prisons in inhuman and degrading conditions. They are denied the due process which should guarantee them fair trials. They are sentenced without ever seeing a courtroom. They are held for years without charge. They are housed with adult prisoners who sexually abuse them. They are beaten by sadistic guards. They are sentenced to death. They are forgotten by the world that walks past the bars of their existence.

With unprecedented and unique access to juvenile prisons around the world, this film looks at the experience of incarceration for juvenile offenders in countries as diverse as the USA and India, the UK and Brazil.

  • In a juvenile boot camp in the USA a thick-necked, moustached, camouflage-clad, jack-booted, deep voiced drill instructor screams at Paul, a 14 year old who will be at his mercy for the next six months.

    Drill Sgt: DO I SCARE YOU?

    Drill Sgt: ANSWER ME, SON

    Boy: SIR YES SIR!

  • In a Secure Unit in England, 12 year old Paul is serving an eight month sentence for stealing, with the final straw being some golf clubs and a pack of Pokemon cards.

    "It feels all upsetting without any company, it’s just nasty, it makes me feel like I’m just no-one"

  • In Mongolia, 9 year old Tsenguunjaav was arrested because his friend stole a mobile phone. He is terrified, and has no idea what is happening to him.

    "My cellmate says I will go to prison for 3 to 8 years, that really scares me."

  • In the Philippines the cells are so crowded that the only place to sleep in amongst the mass of tangled limbs on the cell floor. Eugene is ten years old and has been held for eight months now on a charge of raping a 22 year old woman. The case is due to come to court in the next few months, but because the victim has now decided that maybe Eugene wasn’t there after all, it may be adjourned yet again.

  • In Georgia children who are alleged to have committed a crime are sent to a remote and isolated prison school. Those whose parents or relations have enough money to travel there and guarantee their conduct are freed. Giorgi is not so lucky, he’s 11, but his family is too poor to make the journey to free him. Unless they come he will stay gazing out of the chain link fencing for another 7 years, until he is 18. He stole a coat from a market stall.

  • In Brazil, the UN Rappotateur on Torture, Sir Nigel Rodley, visits the notorious Febems, the Juvenile Offenders Institutes in Sao Paolo notorious for guard violence and bullying. The boys he talks to confirm that conditions fall way short of Brazil’s commitments under the UN Convention. A week later the boys are brought together again, by their lawyers, every one of them has fresh bruises and wounds from the beatings they say they received as a result of talking to Sir Nigel. The guards say the bruises are the result of "self-flagellation"

  • And in Turkey, a country notorious for having some of the worst prisons in the world, we visit a prison without bars, fences or locks. Here we speak to children who have committed murders, but who are nevertheless allowed to walk out of the front gate of the Reformatory every morning, unaccompanied, to go to the local school. The boys visit the theatre and first division football matches every week, along with a few of the Reformatory staff. Those old enough to work, are found jobs in local factories, jobs that they often keep once they finish their sentence. The system is one of the most liberal in the world, and also has one of the lowest recidivism rates in the world.

    In every country we visit, we are looking at the experience of the children, asking them to describe what the world looks like through their eyes. This is not a film of "experts" pontificating, but of children’s raw and direct experiences; we hear, see and smell what it is like to be a child in prison.

    Children aren’t born bad, they are made bad, and the way society responds to their early misdemeanours is one of the key determinants in either rehabilitating them or criminalising them; and most children who are behind bars should be seen as victims themselves as well as perpetrators. This programme will fuel the debate over juvenile justice in every country in the world, and could help to determine whether prison populations in the West continue to rocket, or whether we find a more constructive way of responding to the challenge of juvenile crime.