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Children locked up in YOIs for 22 hours a day for four months during COVID-19 pandemic

Most children in Young Offender Institutions were still locked up for 22 hours a day following four months of COVID-19 restrictions, the chief inspector of prisons has warned.

Following the second young offender institutions short scrutiny visit, Peter Clarke said that despite attempts by local management at HYOI Feltham A and HMYOI Werrington to reintroduce education classes, these moves were thwarted by the prison service and national staff associations.

Peter Clarke said both YOIs had taken swift action in late March, when COVID-19 restrictions were first introduced. Managers had communicated well with both staff and children and it was positive that formal consultation groups had been reinstated at both sites.

“Children at both sites told us they initially understood and largely accepted the need for the restrictions, but after 15 weeks of being locked up for more than 22 hours a day some were understandably frustrated about the slow progress in implementing activity, particularly as they saw restrictions easing in the community.”

The inspection revealed that children were spending most of their day sleeping, watching TV or playing computer games.
Mr Clarke said: “As was the case when we last visited (three different) YOIs in April, our main concern during these visits was the extremely limited amount of time out of cell for all children. The primary cause of this was the decision to stop face-to-face education.”

“As a consequence, nearly all children had been locked up for more than 22 hours every day since the start of the restrictions, which had been imposed some 15 weeks before our visit. This was both disproportionate and avoidable.”

“The government’s guidance is that children who are deemed vulnerable should continue to attend education. Children held in custody meet this definition, meaning education should have continued once the required safety measures had been put in place. Governors at both sites wanted to provide education and had, months before our visits, prepared plans that would have enabled it to be delivered.

These plans were stopped by HMPPS and national staff associations,” he added.

In fact, the lack of face-to-face education in YOIs run by the Youth Custody Service, part of the prison service and Ministry of Justice, was in “stark contrast” to the provision at other establishments holding children, delivered by other providers, the chief inspector added. Every YOI, secure training centre and secure children’s home managed by private or local authority providers has been able to deliver face-to-face education throughout the pandemic, following an initial suspension to put health and safety measures in place.

Managers and staff at Feltham and Werrington were aware of the potentially negative impact of children spending so much time alone in their cells and the effects of such a restricted regime and had been creative working within constraints to:

-Second prison staff to increase the youth work provision

- Introduce limited opportunities for children to eat communally (at Feltham)

- Ensure enhanced welfare checks were carried out by a range of agencies at both sites.

The YOIs appeared calm and well ordered, and recorded self-harm had reduced since the start of the pandemic. While the suspension of visits from family and friends had impacted on many children at the YOIs, the rollout of a secure video calling service to both establishments in June was positive.

Additional phone credit and letters were also given to children at both sites.

Both establishments worked hard to ensure that all children had accommodation on release and were met at the gate by a suitable adult. However, inspectors raised concerned over two cases at Feltham where there were difficulties in finding someone to take a child home, thus delaying their release. In the most serious case, a lack of engagement by a local authority led to a child being held overnight in custody, despite being bailed.

“This report outlines positive work by local governors and their staff who acted quickly to keep children safe, delivered a consistent regime and implemented additional safeguards when needed for the children in their care. However, progress in implementing activity has been far too slow nationally. HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) national guidance has taken little account of the specific needs of children, and this has resulted in children at Feltham A and Werrington being locked up for 22 hours a day for nearly four months,” Peter Clarke concluded.

Second young offender institutions short scrutiny visit


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