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Scathing report on the imprisonment of young people and children calls for urgent change
27.2.17
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A report by the Youth Custody Improvement Board (YCIB), which was set up by Conservative government in May 2016 "to explore and report on the current state of the youth custodial estate and recommend how the system could be improved," has issued a damning report on Young Offender Institutions (YOIs) and Secure Training Centres (STCs) in England and Wales.

See: Findings and Recommendations of the Youth Custody Improvement Board (24 February 2017, pdf)

From the report: key findings and recommendations (emphasis added)

1. Early on in their tenure, the YCIB established that the youth estate was on the edge of coping with the young people it was charged with holding. Each of the centres the Board visited showed significant fragility and reported the same challenges of poor behaviour management of young people, lack of skilled staff and a sense of not being able to meet the needs of a number of their young people.

2. The quality of provision made in the Youth Secure Estate (YSE) has been subject to extensive assessment and inspection, and a large number of reports catalogue a series of failings in each establishment. In summary these reports show a clear deterioration in the quality of provision, a demoralised staff group, insufficiently good leadership and an increase in violence.

3. In combination these factors make more difficult the task of keeping young people, and indeed staff, safe. The under-18 cohort in custody today are older (96% are aged 15 to 17) and in custody for more violent offences (the proportion in custody for violent offences, robbery and sexual offences increased from 52% in the year ending March 2011 to 68% in the year ending March 2016). Levels of violence have increased year on year and Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons, Peter Clarke, in a recent report to the Youth Justice Board (YJB), stated that in his surveys of young people in YOIs, 46% had felt unsafe at some point in their time in custody - the highest figure ever recorded. The fact is that the current arrangements and their quality of provision are not anywhere near good enough; without significant change they will not become so.

4. The YCIB was advised that the YJB escalated safety concerns to the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) Executive Committee in summer 2016 and have taken several steps aimed at improving safety, including increasing and changing their monitoring of establishments and changing advocacy arrangements. The Board understand the specific risk around potentially not being able to make safe and appropriate placements has since been deescalated back to the YJB. However, the YCIB has not seen evidence of a decrease in risks to safety in the youth estate and have alerted ministers to specific concerns about safety at several points throughout their tenure. The YCIB considers that safety of young people continues to be a key risk in youth custody, and every effort must be made by the YJB, MoJ and NOMS (National Offender Management Service) to ensure effective action is being taken to deal with it in each YOI and STC.

5. The YJB itself has acknowledged that the YSE is not fit for the purpose of caring for or rehabilitating children and young people. The YCIB believe this is correct, and is an astonishing analysis by the YJB, given that it has been in operation for over a decade. This inevitably raises a question as to why the YJB and MoJ have not been able to intervene in the YSE to ensure that it was fit for purpose and keeping children and staff safe.

6. The YCIB spoke with a small number of YJB monitors as they were keen to understand the impact the monitors were having on safety and the quality of provision in individual centres. The Board also discussed monitoring arrangements with a number of governors. The Board may have spoken to a limited sample of relevant people, but did not see compelling evidence of the impact monitors were having. It seemed to the YCIB that their work was focussed on process detail and the reporting of incidents. This may have been the intended purpose of the role, and these are indeed important areas, but are not likely to address evident weaknesses in staff quality or arrangements for managing behaviour that underpin concerns about safety and violence. The YCIB asked a number of young people about the role of the monitor but most were not aware of their role.

7. The YCIB’s view is that to be effective, and to have credibility with young people and staff, the monitor role needs to be undertaken by individuals who have a broad range of operational experience of working with staff and challenging young people in custodial settings. They need the skill and knowledge to understand and help improve how staff interact, support and manage young people. The YCIB believe monitoring to be a vital role, and one that needs to continue to be carried out by an organisation other than the service deliverer.

8. The one thing that is not needed is further analysis and diagnosis of what is going on in each of the 8 establishments. The picture could not be clearer and improvement will not arise simply because a further report on an STC or YOI indicates things are getting worse there. The system within which these establishments operate has not been effective in anticipating and remedying the problems which currently exist. Questions of system leadership and accountability have become diffused across the YJB, MoJ and NOMS; there is no definitive point of either leadership or accountability at system level. This has to be rectified urgently and agencies instructed to work collaboratively at all levels of the system.

9. In a recent speech by Lord McNally, Chair of the YJB6, he referred to the 1997 NAO report ‘Misspent Youth’ (which foreshadowed the creation of the YJB) which stated that youth justice was “the responsibility of many and the priority of none”. The Board would argue that now the reverse is true and that the current Youth Justice System is the priority of many but the responsibility of none.

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