Brianna Ghey’s killers, Scarlett Jenkinson and Eddie Ratcliffe, both fifteen at the time of the murder, were officially sentenced on 20th December, and on 2nd February this year, the two had their names released to the public. Both will serve decades in incarceration.
The question remains though — what happens next?
The two will go into the prison system where they will spend a large portion of their lives. Both of them will enter prison as juveniles and be released nearly twenty years later, having contributed only one thing at that point in their lives – murder.
Jenkinson and Ratcliffe are two people who will be in a prison system that has nearly 100,000 incarcerated, and which has already been classified as overcrowded. Those under the age of eighteen in juvenile services, where the two will begin their sentences, are there for ‘violence against a person’.
Whilst one might hope the prison system might reform the duo, this is extremely unlikely. To begin with, juvenile centres are far more violent than adult prison facilities. A report by Charlie Taylor, an Inspection Officer for HM Inspector of Prisons, stated how violence in young offender institutions has risen by thirty per cent in the last year, along with self-harm and a failure to re-educate or rehabilitate young offenders.
In The Independent Taylor noted:
“Not even a third of children could name a single member of staff they believed would help them if they had a problem… our inspections continue to find an absence of the basic activities that should improve trust and behaviour which would be far more productive and serve public protection far better over time.”
Even outside the prison system, vulnerable children are continuously being overlooked, or are not given the services they need. A statistic from the non-profit organisation, ‘Mind’, states that nearly seventy per cent of students have taken time off school due to mental health issues, with a staggering sixty per cent of these students receiving no support. Clearly, both Jenkinson and Ratcliffe were in desperate need of intervention and support, given how the former kept an extensive notebook of her murderous plans.
This should not be the focus. Whilst no-one is suggesting the pair deserve forgiveness, punishment cannot change the acts committed; but rehabilitation is still possible — not to be confused with redemption. They can never take back Brianna’s murder, but the act doesn’t have to be the defining act of their lives.
In an interview with the BBC, Brianna’s mother, Esther, stated she would happily talk to the mother of Jenkinson, noting that “she’s going through a horrific time” and “if she ever wants to speak to me, I’m here”.
The interviewer described this compassion as “extraordinary” — a word that suggests Esther’s feelings should show no sign of empathy with the mother of her daughters killers. The interviewer seemed to think Esther should express only anger. Esther might very well be angry; Brianna’s friends and family have every right to be angry. We equate suffering with sadness and anger; we are even comfortable associating revenge for punishment — maybe this is in part due to how so many of the narratives of popular shows and movies, and even books, are based on the notion of revenge — a life for a life.
It’s become so engrained into us, if you go online right now you won’t find a single thread or post or caption about Brianna Ghey without someone in the comments demanding some sort of retaliatory action against the perpetrators of the crime.
But they’ve already faced justice — they were caught, and now they’re sentenced and their freedom is restricted. If our ultimate aim in sentencing a murderer is to hope that, in the years they spend around other criminals they don’t take on more negative influences, and they come out of prison better than they went in, then the system is failing miserably. Given the lack of rehabilitation that occurs in the prison environment, it is hardly surprising that nearly a third of released prisoners reoffend.
Esther Ghey has shown where compassion should lead, and whilst we do not have to forgive anyone for their actions, including Brianna’s murderers, it is our responsibility as a society to ensure that we don’t take three lives for one.
The prison system needs major reform, not just for Brianna Ghey’s killers but for all those currently behind bars. The system which protects and tracks vulnerable young adults also needs to be reformed. From my own personal experience in a classroom, it is clear that if we do not act today, then tomorrow there will be more Brianna Gheys buried, and more Jenkinson’s and Ratcliffes behind locked doors.
Prison Reform is currently not a topic for either major party in the UK, though, with a general election coming up, it certainly feels like another neglected topic in a country being failed from the top down.