Children in Custody – Welcome signs of improvement but many still feel unsafe

Children in Custody 2017–18: An analysis of 12–18-year-olds’ perceptions of their experiences in secure training centres and young offender institutions

Signs of improvement in youth custody establishments have yet to translate into greater feelings of safety for those detained, according to new analysis of the perceptions of children in custody.

Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, publishing the study of children held in 2017-18 in England and Wales, warned against complacency because of improvements seen in some recent inspections of secure training centres (STCs) and young offender institutions (YOIs).

Despite indications of improved behaviour, significant numbers of children in both types of establishment still said they had felt unsafe at some time. The figures were 34% for STCs and 40% in YOIs.

In February 2017, Mr Clarke warned the Minister for Victims, Youth and Family Justice that HM Inspectorate of Prisons could not then classify any STC or YOI as safe enough to hold children, because of high levels of violence.

This year (2017-18), Mr Clarke said, “there have been some encouraging signs of improvement in safety at some establishments, but history tells us that all too often early signs of improvement have not been sustained.

“A key factor in securing a safe environment for children in custody is finding positive ways to encourage good behaviour. During the year we published a thematic report on this subject, the key finding of which was that all effective behaviour management was underpinned by positive relationships between staff and children. Building those positive relationships is a key challenge for both STCs and YOIs, given the shortages of staff, their high turnover rates and, in too many establishments, very poor time out of cell for the children.”

Mr Clarke added: “It is notable that there has been no statistically significant shift in the perceptions of children about their treatment and conditions – either in STCs or YOIs. Too many children… (34% in STCs and 40% in YOIs) report having felt unsafe since coming into custody.”

The independent HMIP report was commissioned by the Youth Justice Board (YJB). Mr Clarke said the YJB and the recently created Youth Custody Service (YCS) within the prison service should fully understand a notable finding in the perceptions analysis. This is that significantly more (87%) children in STCs reported being treated respectfully by staff than the 64% of boys who did so in YOIs.

A total of 686 children, from a population in custody of just under 840, answered questions in a survey.

Key findings included:

  • 42% of children in STCs identified as being from a black or other minority ethnic background;
  • Over half of children (56%) in STCs reported that they had been physically restrained in the centre;
  • Nearly a third of children in STCs (30%) reported being victimised by other children by being shouted at through windows;
  • Over half (51%) of boys in YOIs identified as being from a black or minority ethnic background, the highest rate recorded in surveys of YOIs:
  • Half of children (50%) in YOIs reported that they had been physically restrained.

Mr Clarke said:

“I trust that the details of this report will prove useful to those whose responsibility it is to provide safe, respectful and purposeful custody for children. As we all know, the perceptions of children in custody, will, for them, be the reality of what is happening. That is why we should not allow the recent improvement in inspection findings to give rise to complacency.”

Read The Report

G4S Young Offenders: “degrading and racist treatment” say Inspectors

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rainsbrook

Young offenders at a secure centre near Rugby were subjected to degrading treatment and racist comments and were cared for by staff who were under the influence of drugs, a damning Ofsted report has found.

Rainsbrook Secure Training Centre (STC) has been declared inadequate by the watchdog, after inspectors found a catalogue of failings including “serious incidents of gross misconduct” by some workers.

In some cases, there were delays in young people receiving vital medical treatment, Ofsted said, while nurses did not routinely attended promptly when an offender was being restrained.

There was also a high number of assaults recorded at Rainsbrook, which is run by G4S, over a six-month period, and youngsters were more likely to say that they had felt threatened by other young people or experienced insulting comments than at other STCs.

In a statement, G4S said it recognised that incidents highlighted by inspectors were “completely unacceptable” and insisted it took swift action at the time.

Rainsbrook is one of three STCs across the country and caters to a maximum 87 12 to 18-year-olds who have been given a custodial sentence or are on remand.

Ofsted found a “mixed picture” in how young offenders at the centre were cared for and helped to improve their behaviour.

“Since the last inspection there have been serious incidents of gross misconduct by staff, including some who were in positions of leadership,” inspectors concluded.

“Poor staff behaviour has led to some young people being subject to degrading treatment, racist comments, and being cared for by staff who were under the influence of illegal drugs. A finding of contraband DVDs in the centre is likely to be attributable to staff smuggling these in and raises a concern that young people were allowed to view inappropriate material they should not have been.

“It also raises a concern that some staff may have colluded with young people to elicit compliance by wholly inappropriate means. Senior managers are unable to reassure inspectors that this is not the case.”

G4S said that the DVDs were certificate 15 discs.

The report says that poor care was made worse by “poor decision making by senior managers”, which led to “delays in young people receiving essential medical diagnosis and treatment”.

“On a number of occasions clear clinical advice was overruled by non-health qualified senior managers. Because of this one young person did not receive treatment for a fracture for approximately 15 hours.”

It later said it was a “serious shortfall” that nurses did not routinely attend restraints promptly to ensure the safety and welfare of youngsters

More than half of offenders at the centre surveyed by Ofsted (56%) said they had faced insulting remarks from other young people, with a further 28% saying they had felt intimidated and threatened at some point.

During the six months before the inspection, there was an average of eight assaults a month – considered high – as well as 27 fights across the same six-month period.

Inspectors did find that while staff were given advice, disciplined or dismissed in some cases, in a few there were “unacceptable and inexplicable delays” in removing staff pending further investigation or an outcome that was too lenient.

“Many members of staff including night staff on the residential units have detailed knowledge about the young people in their care and show a commitment towards their welfare,” the report later says.

“However, these positive relationships have to be seen in the context of a centre where young people have experienced several serious incidents of unacceptable staff behaviour since the previous inspection. This includes collusion with young people in the settling of debts, poor application of restraint, drug taking and racism.”

Ofsted did find that education at Rainsbrook is good, with offenders enjoying learning.

A G4S spokesman said: “This is an extremely disappointing report for everyone connected with Rainsbrook and it’s the first time in 16 years that the centre has been found by any inspecting body to be less than ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’.

“We recognise that the incidents highlighted by inspectors were completely unacceptable and took swift action at the time, in discussion with the Youth Justice Board (YJB).”

He added that the YJB has expressed confidence in the firm’s plan to address concerns.

Nick Hardwick, chief inspector of prisons, said: “Overall, we were very concerned about what we found at Rainsbrook. There had been a number of incidents that caused distress and humiliation to the young people involved. Some of those incidents included staff in leadership roles and there was not a sufficiently robust response by managers to some of the cases.”

A G4S spokesman insisted that children are always sent out of the centre if there is an indication that they require treatment not provided by the NHS team on site.

He added: “All those involved in the incidents of poor care highlighted in the report have already been subject to disciplinary action and are no longer working at the centre.”

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Nick Hardwick, chief inspector of prisons, said: “Overall, we were very concerned about what we found at Rainsbrook. There had been a number of incidents that caused distress and humiliation to the young people involved. Some of those incidents included staff in leadership roles and there was not a sufficiently robust response by managers to some of the cases.”

A G4S spokesman insisted that children are always sent out of the centre if there is an indication that they require treatment not provided by the NHS team on site.

He added: “All those involved in the incidents of poor care highlighted in the report have already been subject to disciplinary action and are no longer working at the centre.”