Lessons from Abroad: Dingle Visits UK Juvenile Facilities

There’s no better way to broaden one’s horizons than to travel and see the world. 

In January, Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention West Regional Manager for Facility Operations Charles Dingle had the opportunity to do just that. Thanks to a grant from The Churchill Fellowship, Dingle spent a week overseas in the United Kingdom, visiting juvenile justice facilities and gleaning lessons that might benefit JJDP facilities at home in North Carolina. 

“It gave me an opportunity to see what other countries are doing and how they approach their young people,” Dingle shared. “Kids here in the U.S. are breaking the law and kids there in the U.K. are breaking the law. That’s a common thread. But the difference is how we approach that process.”

A Decade in the Making

Dingle’s journey began long before he set foot on a plane to fly overseas. In 2014, when he was assistant director at Guilford Juvenile Detention Center, his facility had the opportunity to host a visitor from abroad. Winston Churchill Fellow Rona Chellew, a teacher at Vinney Green Secure Unit in Bristol, England, came to North America with the goal of comparing educational practices at U.K. facilities and their counterparts in the United States and Canada.

“From an educational point of view, what struck me was how risk-adverse the Juvenile Justice system was, as it only taught classroom-based lessons,” Chellew wrote in an email. “At the time of visiting, I was teaching science in a secure children’s home and had a fully equipped laboratory, so that we could re-engage our young people in education. We also have a variety of vocational subjects such as barbering, woodwork and car mechanics that were not available to your pupils. 

“We teach in small classes so that we can really understand the barriers to learning, and do not have additional staff present. The behavior in the classroom is the teacher’s responsibility, whereas in North Carolina, it was the responsibility of care staff.” 

In her travels to Guilford County, New York and Nova Scotia, Chellew reported that her experience took her out of her comfort zone and pushed her to improve her practices as a teacher in a secure setting. Her final report on the visit included recommendations regarding staff training, lesson planning and behavior management. 

“Another key area that struck me was behavior management,” Chellew added. “In North America, in my opinion, it was exceptional... This led to the pupils being fully engaged in their learning.”

Flash forward nearly a decade, and it was Dingle’s turn for a visit. Working with Chellew, the two secured a grant through The Churchill Fellowship allowing him to tour a slate of facilities in the U.K., including Vinney Green Secure Unit, plus facilities in London and Wales.

“It afforded me the opportunity to see several of their facilities,” Dingle said. “I had the chance to interact with staff, administration and the kids to see inside their operation and how they interact with their youth.”

Lessons Learned

Like Chellew, Dingle returned home with lessons to share with his home organization. Of the things he saw during his visit, two items were particularly striking – the U.K. approaches to vocational training and behavior management.

When youth arrive at U.K. facilities, they are placed on a career track based on their interests. In addition to standard educational courses, each youth engages in a series of progressive vocational courses. From carpentry and hairdressing to framing and home economics, youth have a wide variety of opportunities to learn a trade.

“We’ve got to get back on track with our vocational classes,” Dingle said. “It’s phenomenal the skillsets that I see these kids have, and they’re doing it because it’s something they want to do.”
Dingle was also struck by the U.K. facilities’ approach to privileges for youth. Rather than starting at a low level, youth start out with all privileges and only have things taken away as consequence for bad behavior. From items like TVs, boom boxes and game systems to things as simple as allowing posters on room walls and letting higher-level youth wear their own clothing, Dingle says these small things add up to better behavior and less disciplinary issues.

“I’ve been working in Juvenile Justice for over 20 years, and it was truly refreshing to see how another country works with their kids,” Dingle said. “It was amazing. Every kid I talked to wanted to know about America and what the kids over here are doing. The blessing was that I had the opportunity to speak with them about misbehaving, breaking the law and getting their lives straight so they can live a productive life.” 

An Open Door

While his trip abroad closed a cross-continental circle that began nearly a decade ago, Dingle says his counterparts in the U.K. are eager to return to the United States. Ultimately, he would like to see this international collaboration continue – be it through grant funding or some other means.   

“I think the door has been opened,” Dingle said. “I think we can learn from one another about best practices. At the end of the day, everybody is trying to figure out how to interact and how to work with troubled youth. That’s the underlying issue.”

“I think we have a lot to learn from each other,” Chellew echoed “I feel that with our approach to education and your approach to behavior management, we would see an impact on recidivism.

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