BBC better than Home Office for young offenders

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The Independent Online

Reality television has succeeded where David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, has failed, by turning persistent criminals into law-abiding citizens.

An experiment by BBC2, called Make Me Honest, paired five newly-released prisoners with five well-meaning members of the public and set them the challenge of staying crime-free for six months.

The offenders, a mixture of thieves and fraudsters, were matched up with volunteers who ranged from a criminal lawyer to an interior designer.

Surprisingly, the project has worked and not one of the persistent criminals has re-offended, even two months after filming ended.

In contrast, government statistics show that 75 per cent of young offenders released from custody re-offend within a year.

BBC2 made the programme with the help of Unlock, a national charity that works with former offenders.

Jane Root, the BBC2 controller, described the programme yesterday as a "huge social experiment".

She said that the prisoners had been selected for the programme prior to their release from jail, and that the five "mentors" had also been carefully vetted.

In another programme in the channel's spring/summer schedule, Esther Rantzen has invited cameras to follow her as she looks for a new partner, after the death of Desmond Wilcox, her husband of 22 years. Ms Rantzen, 63, who will be filmed as she goes out on dates, asked to take part in a special edition of the show, called Would Like to Meet.

"On the spur of the moment, I offered myself as a subject, because I believe that there are many people in my situation," Ms Rantzen said.

"I was extremely lucky in my marriage to Desmond Wilcox. We were great friends as well as being lovers and partners, and I do not for one moment think I can replace him."

Ms Root is at the centre of speculation that she may be about to leave BBC2 to join the Discovery Channel in America. It is understood that she is in talks with the American channel, but she declined to discuss the issue yesterday. "I'm here this morning to just talk about BBC2. I don't want to talk about any of that stuff," she said.

Later, a BBC source said: "She's been approached, she's very flattered. But she's still at BBC2 as controller."

Ms Root said that her aim was to "constantly surprise, engage and provoke the BBC2 audience".

Among the other highlights in the schedule is an adaptation of Peter Ackroyd's acclaimed history book, London. It is presented by the author and contains a series of dramatic reconstructions using a cast that includes Derek Jacobi and Corin Redgrave.

The London theme will continue with The Long Firm, a drama based on Jake Arnott's novel about the underworld in the 1960s.

Another drama, Every Time You Look At Me, tells a contemporary love story and has two disabled actors in the lead roles.

Chris, a thalidomide-impaired schoolteacher, is played by the actor, poet and martial artist Mat Fraser, who some viewers will recognise from Unarmed and Dangerous, a Channel 4 programme in which he agreed to compete with an able-bodied kick-boxer.

Age discrimination will be explored in Trading Ages, in which a 29-year-old man and a 32-year-old woman are given the appearance of septuagenarians with the use of make-up and advanced prosthetics.

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