The Local Government Association is urging the government to prioritise the safety of children in custody.
A damning report from the HM Inspector of Prisons earlier this year found that not a single establishment inspected in England and Wales was safe to hold young people.
The chief inspector slammed the speed of decline as “staggering” and issued the shocking warning that current conditions made a future tragedy “inevitable”. Rates of self-harm had doubled while assault rates were 18.9 per 100 children, compared with 9.7 in 2011.
However, while the government acknowledged that the safety and wellbeing of these young people is a priority, the LGA has yet to see any clear plans outlining how establishments will be made safe for children in future.
Councils have a statutory duty to ensure all children and young people in their area are safe, but their powers are limited when children and young people enter custody. Responsibility for youth offending institutions transferred from the Youth Justice Board to a new Youth Custody Service, based with Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS), on 1 September.
Chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board Cllr Richard Watts said: “There is no other situation in which children and young people would be placed into environments that are known to be unsafe, and youth custody should be no exception.
“Any local authority found to be running institutions where tragedy is “inevitable”, to use the Chief Inspector’s recent description of the secure estate, would quite rightly be under intense pressure and would at the very least be required to produce a plan with clear timescales for action to ensure that improvements are made quickly and children are kept safe.
While the Prison and Probation Service were alerted to the issues in July, there was still no clear idea of what action will be taken, and by when, to rectify the situation and make sure our young people are safe in custody, he warned.
“Action needs to be taken to ensure that young people are safe in custody,” he concluded.