Placing 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.
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