This report highlights that the number of children being held in custody has significantly fallen in the last 10 years. Whilst this demonstrates alternative ways to deal with crime committed by children, including non-custodial sentences, may be successful, those who are still held in custody present greater challenges for those looking after them, for the system of rehabilitation and for the children themselves.
The report is the second part to the Justice Committee’s inquiry launched in July 2019 into children and young people in the youth justice system and follows the first part of the Justice Committee’s report on entry into the youth justice system and the Government response to such report. The report considers the youth custody environment and the options available to children when they leave youth custody, either to return to the community or to move into an adult prison.
The report identifies that the number of children currently in young offender institutions, secure training centres and secure children’s home has decreased by 70% since 2010, but those in custody have committed crimes at the most serious end of the spectrum. Such children are often the most vulnerable children in society.
The key recommendations made by the Justice Committee in the report are summarised below:
- Separation in Custody: The Justice Committee expresses significant concern about the use of separation across the youth secure estate, the effect it has on both individuals and the institution and the failure to gather and publish data on separation in young offender institutions. The Justice Committee seeks more information on how and why some children are placed in solitary confinement and what is done to care and treat those with mental health needs. The Justice Committee calls for the Ministry of Justice to immediately rectify the lack of gathering and publishing of data on separation in young offender institutions.
- Self-Harm in Custody: Self-harm among children in custody has reached its highest level in five years. The Justice Committee requests that the Ministry of Justice explain the cause for the increase of self-harm and provide clarification on what it is doing to protect children from themselves.
- Use of Force in Custody: Both the use and sanctioned use of force against children in the youth custodial estate have risen in recent years. The Justice Committee recommends a review of the governance of the use of force to ensure such arrangements are robust and force is only used when necessary.
- Disproportionality in Custody: The Justice Committee recommends that the Ministry of Justice provide a full and detailed timetable for implementing the recommendations of David Lammy made in 2017 and an outline of the resources to be provided to ensure disproportionality in the system is reduced and remains reduced.
- Secure School Model: The Justice Committee expresses concern about the level of commitment to replacing young offender institutions and secure training centres with secure schools. The opening of the first secure school was scheduled for 2020 but has now been postponed until 2022. The Justice Committee recommends that the Ministry of Justice guarantees the first secure school opening in 2022 and outline the steps taken to ensure its opening of the first secure school on time and replacement of young offender institutions and secure training centres with secure schools.
- Employment, Training and Education: The Justice Committee notes that a collaboration between the Ministry of Justice, Youth Custody Service and Youth Justice Board is imperative to meet children’s resettlement needs during their time in custody. In order to reduce the risk and rate of reoffending, it is essential that children have access to appropriate employment, training and education services when they leave custody. Children should have a single coordinated resettlement plan and the Justice Committee agreed with the recommendation made by HM Inspectorate of Prisons and HM Inspectorate of Probation that the Ministry of Justice needs to develop a national accommodation strategy for children released from custody. The Justice Committee recommends that the Ministry of Justice should also set out when and how its policy framework on the transition from youth to adult custody will be published and implemented.
The report identifies a number of positive developments in the youth custodial estate but it also identifies a number of problems that continue to exist. Education, training, work-based opportunities, suitable accommodation and maintenance of connection with families and friends after leaving custody present significant challenges. The use and impact of separation across the youth secure estate, increased levels of self-harm and the slow implementation of recommendations to address racial disparity are particularly concerning and need to be addressed.
The report is important and the objectives are promising. The Justice Committee makes a number of positive recommendations that seek to address important issues in the youth custodial estate, the resettlement to the community and the move from youth custody to adult custody. The recommendations include proposals relating to (i) safety and treatment in custody, (ii) clearer commitments on education and training with the intention of aiding the transition back to society and (iii) clearer commitments on the replacement of young offender institutions and secure training centres with secure schools.
Victoria Morton, Associate, Paul Hastings (Europe) LLP