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Nowhere safe for children in secure estate warns prisons inspector

Tragedy is inevitable in youth custody given conditions faced by young people

The chief inspector of prisons has warned that the most ‘concerning’ findings throughout the past year were in establishments holding young people.

The outcome of inspections of Young Offender Institutions and Secure Training Centres were ‘very troubling,’ chief inspector Peter Clarke has stated in his annual report.

“In early 2017, I felt compelled to bring to the attention of ministers my serious concern about our findings,” said Mr Clarke. “By February this year we had reached the conclusion that there was not a single establishment that we inspected in England and Wales in which it was safe to hold children and young people.”

There were around 609 children held in YOIs and 155 in STCs. HMIP surveys suggested:

  • 46% of boys had felt unsafe at their establishment.
  • The number of boys reporting being victimised by other boys had risen significantly.
  • Those who said they had been treated with respect by staff had fallen.
  • The proportion of boys engaged in a job (16%), vocational training (11%) and offending behaviour programmes (16%) across the YOIs was lower in 2015–16 than at any point since 2010–11.
  • Inspections of individual establishments showed that none of them at that time reached the standard of ‘good’ or ‘reasonably good’ in the area of safety.

“The fact that we had reached a position where we could not judge any institution to be sufficiently safe was bad enough, but the speed of decline has been staggering. In 2013–14 we found that nine out of 12 institutions were graded as reasonably good or good for safety. The reasons for this slump in standards are no doubt complex, but need to be understood and addressed as a matter of urgency,” said the report.

The chief inspector reported a “vicious circle” of violence leading to a restrictive regime and security measures which in turn frustrate those being held there.

He added that situations are evident where boys are eating every meal alone in their cell, are locked up for excessive amounts of time, and with no plans to break the cycle of violence.

Mr Clarke set out his concerns in February to Dr Lee, the Minister for Victims, Youth and Family Justice. On 24 February, it was announced that a new Youth Custody Service, as a distinct arm of HMPPS, would become responsible for the operational running of the children and young people’s estate.

“Time will tell if their work can break the cycle of violence besetting these establishments. The current state of affairs is dangerous, counterproductive and will inevitably end in tragedy unless urgent corrective action is taken,” he concluded.

HMIP Annual Report 2016-17



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