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