A bloody good idea: How StreetDoctors is teaching young offenders to save lives

This week’s spotlight: all things prison.

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Among the many things students learn from StreetDoctors is the fact that there’s no “safe place” on the body to stab someone.
(photo via StreetDoctors on Facebook)

Stabbing a bottle of juice with a pair of scissors is actually a pretty good visual aid to teach someone about blood loss in a knife fight. If you remove the scissors, the juice spurts out. If you lie the bottle down, more liquid stays inside.

This is the type of interactive demonstration that UK-based organization StreetDoctors uses to teach young criminal offenders what to do if they’re involved with or witness to a stabbing or shooting. Every second counts when it comes to stopping blood loss, and young people who are out on the streets are often the first at the scene.

“Some of them will come out with quite horrifying stories about witnessing a violent attack,” says Dr. Charlotte Neary-Bremer, CEO of StreetDoctors, in a recent Student BMJ article.

Instead of preaching non-violence, anti-gang messages to the young offenders who may be deaf to them, StreetDoctors wants the kids to take away two main ideas: apply pressure and call an ambulance.

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Interactive models help students learn how to apply pressure.
(photo courtesy of Adrie Mouthaan)

The organization started in 2008 when two medical students, Nick Rhead and Simon Jackson, were teaching first aid to young offenders. They figured out that what the kids really needed to learn wasn’t CPR, but how to deal with blood loss.

“From then on, Nick and Simon started teaching young offenders in Wavertree [near Liverpool] informally—just a few times a year. After a year they thought it would be better to build a team of people… We gradually formalized our teaching and from there it just grew organically,” says Neary-Bremer.

Since then, StreetDoctors has taught more than 1,400 young offenders in six cities around the UK how to survive street violence—and how to help.

Though the impact of this kind of effort is hard to track, the message seems to be getting through to at least some of the youths.

A week after taking the StreetDoctors class, one of Neary-Bremer’s students was out walking with a friend when they were attacked. Thanks to his training, he knew how to apply pressure to the wound, and ended up saving his friend’s life.

Read more about the story behind StreetDoctors in the full Student BMJ article.

With safety and empowerment in mind, what other skills and subjects should we teach young offenders to help deter street violence?

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