Place young offenders in small units, children's commissioner urges

Adam Offord
Thursday, October 22, 2015

Large children's prisons should be scrapped and replaced with smaller secure units in order to improve access to education and rehabilitation, the children's commissioner for England has said.

A report published today by the commissioner claims that under-18s held in larger custodial establishments, such as young offender institutions (YOIs), are more likely to reoffend, be exposed to violence and be subjected to periods of solitary confinement.

The report estimates that one in three children in the youth secure estate, which currently detains around 1,000 young people, experience "isolation" at some point.

It said young people in YOIs are more likely to experience isolation because the establishments have lower staff to child ratios than smaller secure children’s homes.

Meanwhile young people in larger units with higher density populations are more likely to experience conflict. It also found children in isolation in YOIs had less access to education and other normal routines.

The report comes ahead of a review of the youth justice system ordered by Justice Secretary Michael Gove.

Children's commissioner for England Anne Longfield said keeping children in units where violence, longer periods of isolation, and intimidation are present is likely to have long-term costs.

“When children are kept in isolation their education is disrupted and it is far harder to reintegrate them into society once they have served their sentences,” she said.

“The Justice Secretary needs to take note of this report and consider replacing large children’s prisons with small secure units.

“These may be more expensive to run in the short term because they require a higher adult to child ratio but would be cost effective if they help to keep young people out of trouble in the future.”

Among the recommendations made in the report is for the review to examine why particular groups are held in isolation.

Sally Benton, head of policy at Nacro, said Longfield is right to call for a full examination of how custody is used for young people. 

“It is crucial that the review of the youth justice system led by Charlie Taylor responds to these challenges and builds on the findings announced today.”

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