"The girls, like all girls of that age, were bolshy and manipulative, and everything revolved around cigarettes". Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images
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The girls in the prison had done some bad things, but what they did to themselves was worse

The bit they don’t tell you is that agency workers are often brought in when something bad has happened.

“It must be so cool to be in prison,” said my 14-year-old the other day. Orange Is the New Black is her favourite programme. “I know it’s not, really, but they make it look that way.”

They certainly do, and I wanted her to know how terrible it is.

“How do you know? You’ve been in prison, haven’t you?”

My children suspect me of all sorts of things. This is a new one.

“No. I’ve never been locked up. But I know what it is to lock someone up.”

She’d catapulted me back to one of the worst jobs I have ever had, which I’d wiped from my memory somehow.

For a couple of weeks in my mid-twenties I was sent to work in a girls’ lock-up unit. When I say “sent”, I mean by the agency where I’d signed up to do “residential social work”.

Most of the jobs were OK: a children’s home in Deptford, the elderly and people in sheltered housing in Lambeth.

The bit they don’t tell you is that agency workers are often brought in when something bad has happened. A riot, an accident, some kind of neglect that has caused permanent staff to leave suddenly.

This job involved working with girls under 18 who’d done really bad things. I didn’t ask what these were. I was let in to the building through a series of doors with locks, buzzers, codes and alarms and bombarded with information about emergency procedures and fire alarms.

The girls, like all girls of that age, were bolshy and manipulative, and everything revolved around cigarettes.

My first week in the job my stomach churned and I didn’t want to be there. I could see how quickly these kids could go from zero to ten in terms of violence, but that was not my greatest fear. Mostly they’d stolen stuff, refused to go to school and been fighting, but I began to see what the bad things they did really were.

The bad things were what they did to themselves.

They faked periods by cutting themselves. Inside. Yes, there. Not to mention burning and endless vomiting. This got them attention, “privileges”, and less time locked up. When I was instructed not to give one girl sanitary towels “because she’s done that to herself”, I walked out – well, let myself out through the complex system.

In the mid-Eighties no one discussed self-harm. We let them bleed.

Some years later a girl with cropped hair came up to me at a bus stop.

“Do you remember me?”

I did. She’d been one of the worst ones but now she looked happy and she introduced me to her girlfriend. I explained this to my daughter, who asked: “Are you saying she was locked up for being gay?” No wonder I’ve tried to erase that time, that place, that memory.

Suzanne Moore will be appearing in an NS event at Latitude Festival on 16 July

Suzanne Moore is a writer for the Guardian and the New Statesman. She writes the weekly “Telling Tales” column in the NS.

This article first appeared in the 19 June 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Mini Mao

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The economics of outrage: Why you haven't seen the end of Katie Hopkins

Her distasteful tweet may have cost her a job at LBC, but this isn't the last we've seen of Britain's biggest troll. 

Another atrocity, other surge of grief and fear, and there like clockwork was the UK’s biggest troll. Hours after the explosion at the Manchester Arena that killed 22 mostly young and female concert goers, Katie Hopkins weighed in with a very on-brand tweet calling for a “final solution” to the complex issue of terrorism.

She quickly deleted it, replacing the offending phrase with the words “true solution”, but did not tone down the essentially fascist message. Few thought it had been an innocent mistake on the part of someone unaware of the historical connotations of those two words.  And no matter how many urged their fellow web users not to give Hopkins the attention she craved, it still sparked angry tweets, condemnatory news articles and even reports to the police.

Hopkins has lost her presenting job at LBC radio, but she is yet to lose her column at Mail Online, and it’s quite likely she won’t.

Mail Online and its print counterpart The Daily Mail have regularly shown they are prepared to go down the deliberately divisive path Hopkins was signposting. But even if the site's managing editor Martin Clarke was secretly a liberal sandal-wearer, there are also very good economic reasons for Mail Online to stick with her. The extreme and outrageous is great at gaining attention, and attention is what makes money for Mail Online.

It is ironic that Hopkins’s career was initially helped by TV’s attempts to provide balance. Producers could rely on her to provide a counterweight to even the most committed and rational bleeding-heart liberal.

As Patrick Smith, a former media specialist who is currently a senior reporter at BuzzFeed News points out: “It’s very difficult for producers who are legally bound to be balanced, they will sometimes literally have lawyers in the room.”

“That in a way is why some people who are skirting very close or beyond the bounds of taste and decency get on air.”

But while TV may have made Hopkins, it is online where her extreme views perform best.  As digital publishers have learned, the best way to get the shares, clicks and page views that make them money is to provoke an emotional response. And there are few things as good at provoking an emotional response as extreme and outrageous political views.

And in many ways it doesn’t matter whether that response is negative or positive. Those who complain about what Hopkins says are also the ones who draw attention to it – many will read what she writes in order to know exactly why they should hate her.

Of course using outrageous views as a sales tactic is not confined to the web – The Daily Mail prints columns by Sarah Vine for a reason - but the risks of pushing the boundaries of taste and decency are greater in a linear, analogue world. Cancelling a newspaper subscription or changing radio station is a simpler and often longer-lasting act than pledging to never click on a tempting link on Twitter or Facebook. LBC may have had far more to lose from sticking with Hopkins than Mail Online does, and much less to gain. Someone prepared to say what Hopkins says will not be out of work for long. 

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