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

HMP Exeter: A Prison In Decline Due To Staff Shortages

exeter_prisonThere were not enough staff at HMP Exeter and safety had declined, as had work to rehabilitate prisoners, said Peter Clarke, Chief Inspector of Prisons. Current staff should, however, be praised for their efforts, he added. Today he published the report of an unannounced inspection of the local prison in Devon.

HMP Exeter held 490 adults and young adult prisoners at the time of its inspection. It was previously inspected in 2013. This more recent inspection found a clear decline in safety, in work to reduce reoffending and manage offenders through their sentence, and in the provision of health care. The biggest challenge facing the prison was that at the time of the inspection there were insufficient staff to run a predictable daily regime. The situation was apparently exacerbated by the long recruitment process for new staff. Inspectors considered whether the management team could have done more to mitigate the impact of staff shortages, and although there were some issues that could be addressed, it was difficult to see how outcomes could have been significantly better given the staffing shortfalls.

Inspectors were concerned to find that:

  • the number of violent incidents was far higher than at other local prisons and than at the time of the previous inspection;
  • too many prisoners felt unsafe;
  • there had been 10 self-inflicted deaths since the previous inspection and there was another suspected self-inflicted death shortly after the inspection;
  • there were high levels of self-harm and serious concerns about some aspects of health care provision;
  • prisoners spent too much time locked in their cells and too few managed to take part in work, training or education, as the daily routine was often curtailed; and
  • there were real weaknesses in offender management, and work to help prisoners resettle back into the community, despite some good aspects, was undermined by staff changes and staff shortages.

However, inspectors were pleased to find that:

  • the management team were leading staff to deliver a service under challenging circumstances;
  • relationships between staff and prisoners were good;
  • the substance misuse service was very good and services for the many prisoners with mental health problems were good;
  • the management of learning and skills was good and the prison provided enough activity places for the population, but they were not fully used and too many sessions were cancelled; and
  • plans to help prisoners resettle back into the community were generally detailed, and some provision was good.

Peter Clarke said:

“If the shortage of staff provided the backdrop to difficulties at HMP Exeter, the foreground was filled by the challenges of drugs, violence and prisoners suffering from mental health issues. These were, of course, intertwined, and each in their own way was exacerbated by the impact of staff shortages.

“Despite all these difficulties, prisoners told us that the staff treated them with respect and it was clear that the relationship between prisoners and staff was fundamentally sound. It was to the enormous credit of senior managers and staff alike that they were persisting in their determination to do what they could to provide a decent environment for the men in their care.

“However, there was a real and troubling concern that the situation at HMP Exeter was fragile. Outcomes for prisoners had declined markedly since the previous inspection. Unless the regime could be improved, violence reduced, and the prevalence of drugs and other contraband addressed, further declines would be almost inevitable.”

Michael Spurr, Chief Executive of the National Offender Management Service, said:

“We recognise that the prison needs more staff to deal with the problem of drugs, to improve safety and to provide more purposeful activity for prisoners. The Government have provided additional funding to increase staffing levels – and good progress is already being made to recruit new officers.

“The Chief Inspector has highlighted the dedication of managers and staff at HMP Exeter who have been working hard to provide a decent regime despite considerable operational pressures. I’m confident that together with these extra resources the Governor will be able to fully address the recommendations in this report and significantly improve the performance of the prison.”

A copy of the full report, published on 1 February, can be found on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website at:

East Sutton Park – An Excellent Women’s Prison


East Sutton Park was very good at helping to rehabilitate prisoners and prepare them for life back in the community, said Peter Clarke, Chief Inspector of Prisons. Today he published the report of an unannounced inspection of the women’s open prison in Kent.
East Sutton Park is one of only two dedicated women’s open prisons in England. It holds around 100 women deemed suitable to be moved to open prison conditions, where those held are allowed greater freedom and the opportunity to take more responsibility for decision-making and their own lives. Many women at East Sutton Park regularly leave the prison on licence as part of a plan to prepare them for release back into the community. In October 2013 the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) announced the closure of the two women’s open prisons in favour of smaller open units outside larger women’s closed prisons. This decision was challenged in court, delaying implementation, but the threat of closure remains. In the meantime, the prison operates as normal.
The prison was last inspected in 2011. As at the last inspection, inspectors found East Sutton Park to be an excellent prison where strong staff-prisoner relationships underpinned safety and a solid approach to preparing women for release.
Inspectors were pleased to find that:

  • violence of any kind was extremely rare and tensions related were resolved through informal mediation;
  • women lived in dormitory-style accommodation but told inspectors that the opportunities provided by the prison outweighed any disadvantages;
  • the general environment at the prison was excellent, although some areas were in need of refurbishment;
  • all women were required to engage in work, training or education, which were mainly very good, often equipping them with essential skills for gaining employment on release or to live productive lives; and
  • resettlement and offender management work was excellent, and risk management and risk reduction work balanced the needs of women with considerations of public protection.

Peter Clarke said:
“We considered East Sutton Park to be a very good prison, which did very well what it set out to do, namely to prepare women for release and resettle them back into the community. Leadership of the prison was very strong, with a clarity of vision and purpose, and staff understood this and the role they played in achieving the aims set. Given the prolonged and continuing uncertainty about the future of the prison, this was quite an achievement. Women were clear that they were benefiting from what the prison could offer them, and a number said it had helped turn their lives around. The future of East Sutton Park is not yet clear, but it is to be hoped that full account will be taken of the quality of service provided to the women under the current arrangements.”

Michael Spurr, Chief Executive Officer of the National Offender Management Service, said:

“I’m pleased that the Chief Inspector has recognised the excellent work taking place at East Sutton Park to provide education and training opportunities for female prisoners.

“I want to pay tribute to the commitment and professionalism of staff at East Sutton Park who have continued to deliver a high quality service in difficult circumstances. Our intention is to replicate this approach in community prisons across the country, allowing many more women to be held closer to home. East Sutton Park will continue to play an important role in the system until these improved arrangements are in place.”

A copy of the full report can be found on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website from 22 December 2016 at:

HMP Bedford – “Abject Failure Had Allowed A Decline to Unacceptable Standards” Say Inspectors

bedfordStandards at HMP Bedford had declined to unacceptable levels, said Peter Clarke, Chief Inspector of Prisons, who said of Bedford that it was “hard to understand how such an abject failure to address our previous clear recommendations has been allowed to happen.”

Today he published the report of an unannounced inspection of the local prison.  HMP Bedford held 493 prisoners at the time of this inspection. At its previous inspection in February 2014, inspectors made 72 recommendations. On this more recent inspection, only 12 recommendations had been achieved and four partially achieved.

Inspectors were concerned to find that:

  • although the prison knew where and when violent incidents were occurring, far too little was being done to analyse them and take effective action to reduce the violence;
  • the levels of self-harm had increased dramatically since the last inspection;
  • there had been self-inflicted deaths, but not all recommendations by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman had been embedded into practice;
  • the ready availability of new psychoactive substances (NPS) was having a serious impact on safety but there was no effective drug supply reduction strategy in place;
  • the physical condition of the prison was poor, with many prisoners living in cramped conditions;
  • offender supervisors, who prepare prisoners for release, had infrequent contact with prisoners; and
  • delays in implementing the community rehabilitation company (CRC) arrangements meant resettlement arrangements were weak.

However, inspectors were pleased to find that:

  • most prisoners (79%) said staff treated them with respect; and
  • the food was rated good or very good by 43% of prisoners, more than double the figure in similar prisons, and PE facilities were good.

Peter Clarke said:
“This is a disappointing report. It is hard to understand how such an abject failure to address our previous clear recommendations has been allowed to happen. As a result, standards in the prison have declined to unacceptable levels. I am not suggesting that staff at HMP Bedford are not working hard – they clearly were, and some important things had been put in place to improve things in the future.

“The management of the prison is aware of the challenges they face but have not yet been able to address them. The lack of consistent leadership is unlikely to have helped. There had been four people fulfilling the role of governor since the last inspection in 2014. The responsibility to deliver on our recommendations lies mainly with the governor but there also has to be effective oversight at a national and regional level.”

Mark Leech, editor of The Prisons Handbook for England Wales said

“What we see at HMP Bedford from this shocking report is being seen across the prison system nationally; Bedford prison just brings it into sharp focus.

“The Chief Inspector is right to say staff at HMP Bedford are ‘clearly working hard’, but this about delivery not work rate; the Hamster on its wheel ‘works hard’.

“What we need are more staff, more resources and an end to the crazy policy of trying to get ever more prisoners to the pound.”

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

Lancaster Farms – safe and decent but needs more work on reducing reoffending

lancasterfarmsHMP Lancaster Farms was a safe and decent prison but needed to improve the work it did with prisoners to reduce the risk of reoffending, said Nick Hardwick, Chief Inspector of Prisons. Today he published the report of an unannounced inspection of the resettlement prison in Lancashire.

HMP Lancaster Farms was last inspected in June 2011 just before it re-roled from a local prison holding young adults to a training prison for young adults. In 2011, inspectors found an improved prison that was well equipped for its new role, but needed to improve resettlement work. At this more recent inspection, the jail had again re-roled and had been operating as an adult training prison with a resettlement function. Some areas of work were still in transition while others had built on the strengths previously reported. Lancaster Farms remained a basically safe and respectful prison.


Inspectors were pleased to find that:

  • support on arrival and through the early days was good;
  • most prisoners felt safe and despite challenges with new psychoactive substances (NPS) and some underdeveloped violence reduction processes, levels of violence were not excessive;
  • the last self-inflicted death had been in 2014 and action to address the issues raised by this was well advanced;
  • support for those vulnerable to self-harm was good, with particularly strong work by the mental health and chaplaincy teams;
  • use of force was not high and de-escalation was the norm when it was needed;
  • robust management action was being taken to address the challenges of NPS;
  • living conditions were generally good, the food provided was better than usual and prisoners were positive about most staff; and
  • work to reintegrate prisoners into the community towards the end of their sentence was good.

However, inspectors were concerned to find that:

  • the needs of some disabled prisoners were not being met and work with foreign nationals was poor;
  • there were too few relevant work places and not all the available activity places were being used, though there were plans to increase the amount of work and training offered;
  • offender management arrangements were in transition, too few assessments were being completed to an adequate standard and contact between prisoners and offender supervisors was too infrequent; and
  • public protection arrangements were seriously flawed and needed urgent attention.

Nick Hardwick said:

“We felt that good progress had been made in providing a safe and decent prison for the new population held, but that consistent management attention was needed to address weakness in the amount and range of work offered, and in the support provided around the critical areas of offender management and public protection. It was reassuring that senior managers had recognised most of these weaknesses and had credible plans to address the shortfalls.”
Michael Spurr, Chief Executive of the National Offender Management Service, said:

“Since its previous inspection, Lancaster Farms has been converted from a Young Offender Institution to a category C adult prison. This was a significant complex change which, as this inspection makes clear, has been managed impressively by the Governor and his staff. I’m pleased that HM Inspectorate of Prisons found a safe, decent and respectful prison. We accept that there is more work to do to develop the resettlement regime and provision of purposeful activity for the new adult population and will use the recommendations in this report to drive progress in these areas over the coming months.”

Notes to editors:    

  1. A copy of the full report can be found on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website at: