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

published today: Children in Custody 2015-16: an analysis of 12 to 18-year-olds’ perceptions

 Juv CentreNearly half of boys in young offender institutions have felt unsafe in custody at some point, said Peter Clarke, Chief Inspector of Prisons. Today he published a thematic report on the results of surveys of children in custody.

The report, Children in Custody 2015-16: an analysis of 12 to 18-year-olds’ perceptions of their experience in secure training centres and young offender institutions, commissioned by the Youth Justice Board (YJB), sets out how children describe their own experience of imprisonment. The number of children in custody fell by 53% between 2010-11 and 2015-16, made up largely by falls in the number of children held in young offender institutions (YOIs), down 59%. Over the longer term, the secure children’s estate population has fallen by 66% since 2005-06. As of April 2016, 906 children aged under 18 were held in custody across England and Wales.

HM Inspectorate of Prisons has published an annual summary of survey responses in YOIs since 2001-02 and the demographics and circumstances of the boys held have changed over that period. The proportion who said they were from a black or minority ethnic background is at the highest rate recorded since 2001-02, at 47%. Those with experience of the local authority care system (37%), Muslim boys (22%), boys reporting a disability (19%) and those identifying as being from a Gypsy, Romany or Traveller background (7%) continued to be disproportionately over-represented across the YOI estate when compared with the population as a whole. When asked if they had ever felt unsafe at their establishment, 46% of boys said they had, the highest ever figure recorded through our surveys.

The report also found that in YOIs:

  • the proportion of boys with a job in their establishment had fallen significantly in the past 12 months (16% compared with 28% in 2014-15); and
  • the proportion of boys engaged in a job (16%), vocational training (11%) and offending behaviour programmes (16%) across the YOI estate was lower than in 2015-16 than at any point since 2010-11.

In April 2012, HM Inspectorate of Prisons, Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission began joint inspections of Secure Training Centres (STCs). This report includes the fourth annual summary of children’s experience of STCs. The demographics of STCs and YOIs have some significant differences. YOIs hold only boys aged between 15 and 18. All girls aged under 18 are now held in either STCs or local authority-run Secure Children’s Homes (SCHs). STCs held a greater proportion of children under 16 than YOIs, at around a third (32%).

The report also found that in STCs:

  • the proportion who identified as being from a black or minority ethnic background was 41%;
  • the proportion who identified as Muslim was 15%;
  • the proportion who said they were from a Gypsy, Romany or Traveller background was 12%;
  • nearly a third of children (31%) report being victimised by being shouted at through windows; and
  • nearly a quarter of children (23%) reported feeling unsafe at some point since their arrival at the STC.

Peter Clarke said:

“Over the past decade the number of children in custody has fallen by some 66%, but the perceptions of those that remain leave us with some worrying and difficult issues to consider. During the inspections of young offender institutions in the past year, we found that outcomes in our test of safety were not sufficiently good in all but one YOI. Our surveys disclose that 46% of boys had at some point felt unsafe at their establishment, the highest figure we have recorded. These poor outcomes in safety are directly related to correspondingly poor outcomes in education.

“There are some particularly troubling findings in the areas of disproportionate over-representation (in terms of the characteristics of the children now being held in custody), safety, victimisation, respect and training. I hope these findings are taken seriously by those charged with developing and improving policy.”

Colin Allars, Chief Executive of the Youth Justice Board, said:

“Parts of this report are uncomfortable to read – trends around safety are concerning.  We will use these findings to support our work with providers of custodial services to address the issues children and young people are telling us about.

“The YJB has a role in ensuring young people are looked after whilst in custody, and to do that effectively we must listen to their views. We commission this independent survey because its findings are important in ensuring that the voices of children and young people in custody are heard and because it helps us to monitor the services provided to them.”

A copy of the report can be found on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website from 15 November 2016 at http://www.justice.gov.uk/publications/inspectorate-reports/hmi-prisons/thematic-research.htm

Children in Custody: Distance From Home – A Thematic Review.

Screen Shot 2016-09-27 at 16.23.59Placing children in custody miles away from their home affected how many family visits they received, said Peter Clarke, Chief Inspector of Prisons. It didn’t, however, have a significant impact on other experiences of custody and could help some boys keep away from gang influence, he added.

Today he published a report, The impact of distance from home on children in custody.

The independent review was commissioned by the Youth Justice Board (YJB). It pulls together views and data on the impact of distance from home on children in custody. The aims of the thematic were to:

 explore the impact of distance from home on aspects of daily life in custody for children, and

 explore the impact of distance from home on resettlement planning and outcomes on release.

The report draws on interviews with around 50 children and staff at two young offender institutions (YOIs) and one secure training centre (STC), and data provided by those establishments. It also uses data from surveys conducted at four YOIs holding 15–18-yearolds and two STCs, and recall data provided by the YJB.

Key findings.

 Children who were held further from home had fewer visits than those who were close to home. For each child included in our survey sample, analysis of data on visits revealed that those held further from home had significantly fewer visits from family members and friends, with cost and travel time cited as reasons for children not receiving visits. The impact of this was raised as a negative influence by children and their caseworkers during interviews. Most caseworkers and managers, when asked about the vulnerabilities of the children in their care, linked them to problems with family contact. Little was being done, bar a pilot of using Skype at one YOI, to mitigate this impact on the boys and girls concerned (see paragraphs 4.14–4.24).

 Analysis of data for 595 children showed that children who were further away from home received significantly fewer visits from professionals. This mirrored what children told Inspectors in interviews (see paragraphs 4.43–4.44).

 Planning for release and resettlement followed the same process irrespective of distance from home. Children saw advantages in being close to home when it came to their release and caseworkers described it as sometimes harder to put a suitable release package in place for those who were further away from home. Elements such as family mediation work and ‘through the gate work’ (continuation into the community of work begun in custody) were seen as more difficult when greater distances were involved. Family involvement and support post release was seen as a key element whenever there was a chance of this being available (see paragraphs 4.48–4.51).

 In the sample of cases looked at, distance from home had little impact on attendance by external partners at sentence planning or remand management reviews. There was good attendance by external youth offending team (YOT) workers regardless of distance and families attended half of the reviews for children who were closer to home, and slightly fewer for those who were far from home (see paragraphs 4.34–4.36).

 There was no association between distance from home and recall to detention following release. Analysis of release and recall data for a census of over 1,300 children subject to a detention and training order (DTO) who were released in England and Wales during 2013–14, showed no identifiable link between distance from home while in custody and likelihood of recall to custody post release (see paragraph 4.58).

 Survey data and interviews with children showed distance from home was not a predictor of whether a child had felt unsafe in their YOI/STC. It was of concern though that nearly half of children, regardless of their distance from home, had at some point felt unsafe while in their current YOI/STC (see paragraph 4.5). Similarly, distance from home was not a predictor of whether a child reported that they had experienced victimisation from staff or other children, considered that they were treated with respect by staff, or had been restrained (see paragraphs 4.6–4.12).

 Distance from home did not have a significant impact on the experiences of children in many areas of custodial life. The main exceptions to this were: visits from family, involvement of family in preparation for release and the involvement of external professionals (other than for sentence or remand planning reviews).

 Arriving late at the YOI/STC, which can make it more difficult for a child to settle on their first night in custody, was not uncommon and could be exacerbated by the distances some children had to travel to get to their YOI/STC. In our Transfers and Escorts5 thematic review, we reported on the scope to make greater use of ‘virtual courts’ that could reduce the need for children to make lengthy journeys for brief court appearances and transfers. We repeat that observation in this review.

 Boys in YOIs who were close to home reported more gang problems when they first arrived at their YOI than those who were far from home. Caseworkers saw benefits for some children in being away from gang influences, or an area where their offence had attracted local attention. One child pointed to the advantage of being away from previous influences and having the chance to mature, and other children interviewed saw advantages in being further from home. It was considered easier as you were not reminded of family all the time, and knowing what was ‘on the other side of the fence’ could be a source of frustration for some. That young people who reported gang problems were placed closer to home than those who did not report such problems may be due to the geographical locations of YOIs and those young people involved in gangs, rather than the distances involved (see paragraphs 4.12 and 4.29).

The Report recommends

More imaginative solutions and flexibility should be used to mitigate the current lack of visits for children whose family find it hard to visit, whether due to distance or other factors.

 Children should be provided with additional phone calls to a parent/carer in place of unused visit entitlements.

 There should be greater use of new technologies to enable children in custody to have the levels of contact they need with external professionals who will be working with them post release, and to enable relevant ‘through the gate’ work to commence while in custody.

 Age appropriate information should be available in all courts so children who are committed to custody can know before they leave the court where in England or Wales they are going, where this is in relation to their home and what the YOI/STC offers.

 Children should routinely be given the opportunity to discuss how they feel about their distance from home and how any negative impacts they are experiencing can be mitigated.

 Available data should be used on a regular basis to determine any negative impacts on children who are placed far from home, particularly in relation to recall and reoffending, and to identify any emerging patterns or trends.

 There should be increased use of video-enabled court hearings, when appropriate, while ensuring there are no adverse consequences for the child or criminal justice procedures. Safeguards should ensure that the child is able to appropriately consult with their solicitor prior to their hearing. (Repeated recommendation from escorts thematic.)

After publication of the Report Peter Clarke said:

“It was reassuring to find that being placed in custody far from home was not a disadvantage to children in many respects. The negative impact on family ties and the implications this has for successful resettlement and turning children away from crime cannot, though, be ignored.”

Mark Leech, editor of The Prisons Handbook for England and Wales welcomed the report and called for ‘thinking outside the box’.

Mr Leech said: “This report is welcome in that it revisits a very important issue, but did we really need a Thematic Review to tell us long distance and fewer visits are inextricably inter-linked?

“It has long been established that family contact is crucial to rehabilitation, the Inspectorate’s own 2014 report on resettlement of adults makes this point, and the UN Rules for the Protection of Juveniles Deprived of their Liberty include that ‘detention facilities for juveniles should be decentralised and of such size as to facilitate access and contact between the juveniles and their families.’

“The point that increased distance from home can reduce gang influence may well be a welcome by-product, but keeping children far from home ought to be the exception not the rule; the costs in terms of rehabilitation far outweigh any benefits.

“A much reduced YOI Estate inevitably means distance from home will increase, fewer visits will take place, and therefore it is surely time to start thinking outside the box and use modern technology, such as Skype, to facilitate increased family and professional face-to-face visits where distance from home reduces or often prevents physical visits from taking place at all – and not just for children, although they should perhaps be the first to benefit, but across the prison estate nationally.”

A copy of the full report can be found on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website at: www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmiprisons

INQUEST response to the YJB Child Deaths Report

INQUEST Charitable Trust
INQUEST Charitable Trust

INQUEST response to Youth Justice Board report on deaths of children in custody

Deborah Coles, co-director of INQUEST said:

“Whilst this report offers some insight into the Board’s learning from child deaths, it can be no substitute for a wider review.

“INQUEST’s work on the deaths of children shows the same issues of concern repeat themselves with depressing regularity. This demonstrates that the current mechanisms, including the YJB, are not preventing deaths of children.

“And recent government proposals relating to restraint and secure colleges for children also call into question the extent of the impact the YJB’s learning is having on policy-making.

“A short report cannot be a substitute for a full, holistic, independent review of child deaths in custody that encompasses all findings and recommendations, and examines the wider public health and welfare issues and a child’s journey into the prison system.  The government must extend the remit of the inquiry it is commissioning into the deaths of 18-24 year olds in prison to include children.”

Notes to editors:

1.  The YJB report can be accessed here: http://www.justice.gov.uk/youth-justice/monitoring-performance/serious-incidents

2.  The Criminal Justice and Courts Bill can be accessed here: http://services.parliament.uk/bills/2013-14/criminaljusticeandcourts.html

3. INQUEST’s briefing on the need for an independent review of the deaths of children and young people can be accessed here  

For further information, please contact Hannah Ward, INQUEST Communications Manager on 020 7263 1111 / 07972 492 230.

INQUEST provides a general telephone advice, support and information service to any bereaved person facing an inquest and a free, in-depth complex casework service on deaths in custody/state detention or involving state agents and works on other cases that also engage article 2 of the ECHR and/or raise wider issues of state and corporate accountability. INQUEST’s policy and parliamentary work is informed by its casework and we work to ensure that the collective experiences of bereaved people underpin that work. Its overall aim is to secure an investigative process that treats bereaved families with dignity and respect; ensures accountability and disseminates the lessons learned from the investigation process in order to prevent further deaths occurring.

Please refer to INQUEST the organisation in all capital letters in order to distinguish it from the legal hearing.

YJB Child Deaths In Custody – Lessons Learnt Report published

yjb-dic-p1

The YJB’s report Deaths of Children in Custody: Action Taken, Lessons Learnt explains the actions taken by the YJB in response to recommendations made by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman, coroners and Serious Case Reviews, following the deaths of children in custody since 2000. It also identifies the work that still needs to be undertaken to ensure that when children must be held in custody, it is in a safe environment which protects them from harm.