“Most young people are socially disadvantaged.”

Four walls, barbed wire, an access lock and dozens of cameras separate the young people at De Hunnerberg Youth Center from the outside world. The place feels like a separate world in Nijmegen. “It is,” says group leader Max*. He gives a glimpse into the four walls and talks about his special function.

“It’s not a hotel here,” Max says. “I notice that prejudice prevails. As people see that young people have their own room with a TV, they can play games on PlayStation and there is table tennis and a sports court. Society prefers to see convicts live on water and bread only.”

Playstation, but four walls

“It’s really as homely as possible here. We try as much as possible to mimic a home situation where the little ones learn to live with each other. But remember we are taking away their freedom. There are four big walls around the RJJI and we can lock them in their room with heavy doors. They don’t have a phone cellular or social media and there’s a daily routine they have to stick to. If they want something, they always have to order it. Even if they just want a sandwich.”

little things

This is all part of the educational treatment that young people receive during their stay. This remedy is in the little things. Young people often don’t realize it, but being present in their live group, interacting with group leaders like Max and the Follow Up Day program is a form of therapy. Practitioners contemplate with young people the consequences of their behaviour. All with the aim of allowing young people to return to society in a safe manner at the end of their path.

What is Honerberg?

One of the four sites of the National Juvenile Association (RJJI). Nijmegen accommodates 72 young people between the ages of 12 and 24. The average age here is 18 years. Young people are there because they are suspected of or have been convicted of a criminal offence. Hunnerberg is currently the only RJII location where the girls are staying. They are in separate groups.

Large yellow cell doors

Max works as a group counselor in a group of eight boys. He guides them in their daily lives in a juvenile detention center. His main task is to teach young people rules and values. “How do you treat each other with respect? Like ordering that sandwich in a nice way. Not many young people here learned such basic principles at home. They often in the direction of the streetHowever, they lag behind in their social development.

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RJJI De Hunnerberg in Nijmegen on the Berg en Dalseweg (Photo: indebuurt Nijmegen)

No more power by half

In this way it brings the daily rhythm to their structural lives. Max is there when they wake up on time, eat together, do chores, learn and follow remedies. “For most people, such a rhythm is new. Here they cannot order pizza at 5 in the morning or sleep until 11 in the morning every day. In fact, at 1:30 in the morning at most, the power goes out: then watching TV is no longer possible.”

‘We are not friends’

Max gets the most satisfaction from contacting young people. It is preferable to be present with them in the sports fields. For him it is a moment of educational therapy, and for young people a moment of relaxation. “To enjoy the game of football. So we are not directly involved in problems, we just participate in playing. Young people are just children again. And I will just participate!”

Although he always keeps a professional distance from them. “I want the best for them, I’m a counselor for a reason. But we’re not friends with each other and I’m always on the alert. Never stand my back to them. Some are manipulative and might try to manipulate me and my teammates against each other if they want to get something done.”

I’m never afraid

They can also become aggressive. “The atmosphere during a card game can change at any time. If that happens, I can hit the alarm if necessary. I always carry this with me. And then, in no time at all, a group of mates will be on site. To help. I’ve never been afraid here. Probably because I first worked as a security guard for six years and I know I keep calm.”

If the youngsters remain a danger to themselves or the environment, Max can take them to the solitary cell. A room in which there is only a window, a toilet and a mattress. In De Hunnerberg there are six. “They are almost never satiated. We consider it a last resort. In their private rooms, young people have distractions and things they can destroy. This is not here.”

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Max in isolation cells (Photo: indebuurt Nijmegen)

Sometimes they come back

Everything at RJII aims to resettle young people: getting young people back into society. Hoping that they will not commit another criminal offense and deal with the law. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. “We see some young people again. Here they have a fixed rhythm with tasks, school and direction. Once home, they have to do most of it themselves. Then, despite the authorities’ help, some go back to old patterns because their home environment has not changed.”

But sometimes that doesn’t happen. Because of the peculiarity of young people, I don’t know where they end up. I recently heard that the boy who once sat here now has his own successful barbershop. Good to hear that, that’s what I’m doing this business for.”

Below you can see more photos of RJJI in Nijmegen:

* Known last name of the editor. Not mentioned for safety.

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