childreninprisonThe number of children in custody has fallen sharply, but the backgrounds and needs of those who remain have become more complex, said Nick Hardwick, Chief Inspector of Prisons. Today he published a thematic report on the results of surveys of children in custody.

The report, Children in Custody 2014-15: an analysis of 12-18-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.

HM Inspectorate of Prisons has published an annual summary of survey responses in young offender institutions (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 minority ethnic group has almost doubled between 2001-02 and 2014-15 from 23% to 42%. The number of Muslim boys has risen from 16% in 2010-11 to 21% in 2014-15. There is some evidence to support the suggestion that as the number of boys in custody has fallen, those who remain are a more concentrated mix with more challenging behaviour and complex needs. The proportions of children who consider themselves to have a disability and who have been in local authority care have both risen sharply over the past five years.

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 third annual summary of children and young people’s experience of STCs. The demographics of STCs and YOIs have some significant differences. YOIs do not hold girls and 16% of the children who responded to surveys in STCs were girls. STCs held a greater proportion of children under 16 than YOIs.

Both STCs and YOIs continued to hold a hugely disproportionate number of children who described themselves as being from a Traveller or Gypsy background. In STCs, 11% of children said this, a hundred times greater than the 0.1% which is the proportion in the population as a whole.

Children in STCs generally reported more positively than those in YOIs, and overall, in both types of establishment, about four in five children said staff treated them with respect. Nevertheless, a significant minority of children in both STCs and YOIs described being frightened and unhappy.

The report also found that:

  • although around four in five children described feeling safe on their first night, almost a third said they had felt unsafe at some time;
  • two out of five children said they had been physically restrained;
  • only slightly more than half the children felt they had done anything in custody to make them less likely to offend in future; and
  • fewer boys in YOIs reported being involved in any kind of purposeful activity than at the time of any inspection reports in the past five years.

Nick Hardwick said:

“In the period we have been conducting these surveys, the number of children in custody has fallen sharply, the shape of the estate has changed and policy initiatives have come and gone. As a new round of reform beings, the voices of children in custody – describing what for them has changed and what remains consistent – is an important source of evidence that can help us understand where efforts and change should be focused.”

“We have repeatedly raised our concerns about the hugely disproportionate number of children in custody from a Traveller or Gypsy background. Withy any other group, such huge disproportionality would have led to more formal inquiry and investigation.”

Lin Hinnigan, Chief Executive of the Youth Justice Board, said:

“This important survey helps us listen to the views of young people in custody, so we can understand how best to improve the support they get. We are concerned at the number of young people who do not feel safe at some point during their time in custody. The purpose of custody is to help rehabilitate young people so that they can live crime-free lives, so reduced levels of purposeful activity are also troubling.

“As the commissioner of places in under-18 custodial establishments, we are working closely with those running Secure Training Centres and YOIs to ensure they improve and meet the needs of each individual child in their care. The YJB is also committed to working with partners to address the issue of minority groups including Gypsy, Romany and Traveller being over-represented in the youth justice system.”

  A copy of the report can be found on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website at