HM chief inspector of prisons Peter Clarke said that leadership and staff at Werrington YOI near Stoke "deserved much credit" for having the determination to deliver a culture change. He said the ethos was "in stark contrast to what we see all too often at other establishments, where a negative cycle of punishment and restriction is pursued as the preferred means of behaviour management".
All boys had signed behaviour-related compacts in which access to private cash, computer games and time out of cell were used as incentives.
Inspectors noted that the scheme offered boys an immediate reward for good behaviour which could be exchanged for confectionery at the merit shop, and was appreciated.
The inspection also found that youth workers contracted through Kinetic Youth effectively promoted boys' understanding and awareness of personal, social and health topics.
Meanwhile, support for diversity from the education department and Kinetic Youth was good. Five boys acted as safeguarding and diversity representatives, receiving training for their role from Kinetic Youth which also provided support and guidance to boys who used inappropriate language or needed more understanding of diversity issues.
Kinetic youth workers also ran a series of informal sessions on sexual health, gambling and on the management of emotions and feelings in an informal environment in the prison.
"Boys responded very positively to these sessions and felt able to disclose and reflect on their own offending behaviour and personal challenges," the report states.
Inspectors said that education and vocational training provision, contracted through Novus was also good. A multidisciplinary team allocated boys to education and skills very effectively with a strong focus on boys' safety and the safety of others. Novus also contracted with Kinetic Youth to provide bespoke training opportunities for boys.
"Staffing levels were adequate and staff had suitable qualifications and expertise," the report states.
"Novus employed a team of engagement and resettlement workers who provided useful information, advice and guidance to boys from induction through to release."
However, inspectors sounded a note of caution over high levels of violence, which had risen since the last inspection in 2017. There had been a significant increase from some 142 incidents in the six months prior to the last inspection to 206 incidents in the period leading up to this one. Use of force by staff had also increased.
Clarke said that, overall, it was "pleasing to be able to publish a very positive report about a YOI".
"The inspectorate always welcomes good practice being identified and promulgated, which is why we have gone to particular lengths in this report to do so," he said.
"Nevertheless, it is clear that if the progress that has been made at Werrington is to be consolidated and maintained, there needs to be a continued and unwavering focus on reducing the violence that is the major threat to its continuing stability and success."