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HM Inspectorate of Prisons’ Report on Children in Custody – serious cause for concern

HM Inspectorate of Prisons – Children in Custody 2019-20

HM Inspectorate of Prisons has published a report analysing the perceptions of 12 to 18 year olds of their experiences in secure training centres (STCs) and young offender institutions (YOIs).  The report is based on survey data which was mirrored by the findings of the inspections which report that not a single STC was good enough and that violence and self-harm in YOIs remained at or near an all-time high. Only one institution inspected in 2019-20 was deemed sufficiently safe.

Details

 HM Inspectorate of Prisons inspects YOIs and STCs annually.  Surveys of the population of each YOI and STC are conducted before the inspection team arrives. Overall, 613 completed questionnaires were received from 789 potential respondents, a response rate of 78%. The majority of the responses were from young people in YOIs; making up 83% of the responses.

The foreword to the report notes that it “describes the grim reality of life in custody. The report asked questions about day-to-day life, health and well-being, complaints, safety, behaviour management, relationships between staff and children, education and training and resettlement.  In each category concerning responses were reported, with few examples of good practice. In all areas, responses of young people at HMYOI Feltham were consistently more negative that other youth establishments. HMIP found the conditions at Feltham to have deteriorated so badly since the last inspection that the Chief Inspector issued an Urgent Notification to the Secretary of State to raise these concerns resulting in a suspension of new placements at HMYOI Feltham A (the side accommodating 15 to 17 year olds. Feltham B accommodates 18 to 21 year olds and was not part of this inspection).

The high levels of violence at Feltham were one concern which led to the issuance of the Urgent Notification, however levels of violence were also found to be high at Cookham Wood and Werrington YOIs. Parc YOI reported high levels of violence, but these had reduced since the last inspection. Safety is one of the metrics used by HMIP to assess a healthy prison; it was observed that the outcomes for safety at Feltham were poor, not sufficiently good at Cookham Wood and Werrington and only reasonably good at Parc. Levels of violence at all three STCs (Oakhill, Medway and Rainsbrook) were high, although at Rainsbrook they had reduced since the last inspection.

The other metrics used by HMIP to assess a healthy prison are care, purposeful activity and resettlement. Across all three areas Feltham was found to be either poor or not sufficiently good. There were mixed results across the other YOIs and STCs. None was found to be good in all areas.

The report also reflects the overrepresentation of BAME children and young people in the criminal justice system, with 55% of the respondents reporting that they were from a BAME background. In many areas surveyed, BAME children and young people reported significantly less favourable responses; they were more likely to say they had been restrained, less likely to say they were cared for or treated by well by staff and less likely to say that the rewards or behaviour management regime was fair.

The most overrepresented group were those identifying as being from a Traveller background: 9% of respondents reported as such. Care-experienced children and young people were again significantly over-represented with 52% of respondents reporting that they had been in the care of the local authority. Interestingly, 8% of those surveyed said that they had children, a factor not often discussed.

Commentary

 The findings of the report paint a damning picture of the reality of youth custody. It was noted in a recent Children’s Commissioner’s report [link to update] that the high rates of reoffending of children and young people are a reflection of the failings of the youth custodial estate. However the findings of HMIP in this report raise more immediate concerns about the safety of children and young people in custodial settings where levels of violence and self-harm are alarmingly high and the standard of care provided is frequently not good enough.  It is clear from the report that good practice is rare, although not non-existent, and that huge improvements and investment is required in order to provide an environment that can provide the basic care, education and rehabilitation required not only by children and young people in custodial settings, but by wider society, in order for us to be able to have confidence in the criminal justice system.

Written by Vivien Cochrane, Senior Associate, Kingsley Napley LLP