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Too many boys kept in YOI cells for more than 22 hours

Too many boys are being locked in their cells for 22 hours or more in Young Offenders Institutions, the chief inspector of prisons has warned.

Staffing constraints within the secure estate has impacted negatively on the boys being held there, the 2016-17 report found.

“In YOIs, boys reported poorer access to showers and telephones, and this is hardly surprising,” said the report by Peter Clarke, chief inspector of prisons. “We have found far too many boys being locked in their cells for more than 22 hours each day, with staff struggling to manage the complexities of regimes where some boys can only be allowed out of their cells while others are locked up.”

The report highlighted:

  • Fewer children in STCs reported having a key worker
  • More than a fifth of children in STCs said they had no one to turn to if they had a problem, meaning that many vulnerable children with complex needs were trying to manage their problems without support
  • There were high numbers of children from black and minority ethnic backgrounds and Gypsy, Romany or Traveller backgrounds
  • High numbers of boys reported mental health problems
  • Many of the boys had been in care

Peter Clarke highlighted that the average number of children under 18 in custody fell by 56% between 2011–12 and 2016–17, made up largely by falls observed in the number of children held in YOIs (down 57%). Over the longer term, the number of children in custody has fallen by 70% in the period from 2006–07.

The report highlighted that the profile of children in Secure Training Centres had not changed much. Nearly half of all children in STCs were from a black or minority ethnic background, just over one in 10 children were Muslim and 10% were from a Gypsy, Romany or Traveller background which compares with estimates of 0.01% in the population as a whole.

More than one in five children reported feeling unsafe at some point since arriving at the STC, one in four children reported being victimised by other children by being shouted at through windows and compared with last year, children were significantly less likely to say that they had a key worker on the unit (67% compared with 89%).

The profile of boys in YOIs has not changed significantly since 2015–16: nearly half of boys were from a black or minority ethnic background, the highest rate recorded through surveys in the secure estate. The proportion of boys who had experienced local authority care was 42%. The survey found 39% of boys said they had felt unsafe which was significantly lower than in 2015–16 surveys when the figure was 46%.

The report found 71% of boys in YOIs said they could have a shower every day compared with 88% in 2015-16.

A comparison between the survey responses of young people held in YOIs and STCs during 2016–17 showed that children in STCs felt safer than boys in YOIs; while 22% of children in STCs reported that they had felt unsafe in their establishment, the equivalent figure was 39% for boys in YOIs. Differences in perceptions of safety for children in STCs and YOIs included on their first night, where 92% of children in STCs reported that they felt safe, compared with 82% of boys in YOIs, and at the time of the inspection, when 6% of children in STCs reported feeling unsafe compared with 16% of boys in YOIs. Children in STCs were significantly more likely than boys in YOIs to say that most staff treated them with respect (89% compared with 66%).

The report came in the context that as of February 2017, based on the current inspection reports of STCs and YOIs, none of the establishments were judged to be safe.

“Last year I invited those with the responsibility to develop and improve policy to take our findings seriously. I trust that the realignment of responsibilities between the Youth Justice Board, the Ministry of Justice commissioners of services and the new Youth Custody Service within HM Prison and Probation Service will lead to improvement, and that the process of restructuring and reform will not detract from the urgent need for an effective operational response to the issues raised in this report,” said Peter Clarke, chief inspector.

“The need for this to be the case has actually increased, particularly when it comes to improving both the perceptions and the reality of safety. Until this is addressed, the broader objectives of delivering education, training and creating a rehabilitative environment will not be achieved,” he concluded.

Children in Custody 2016–17 An analysis of 12–18-year-olds’ perceptions of their experiences in secure training centres and young offender institutions



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