Prisons inspector warns of continued failure to tackle youth custody violence

Neil Puffett
Wednesday, March 21, 2018

The lives of young people in custody are being "significantly impacted by deteriorating behaviour" which is not being tackled effectively, the chief inspector of prisons has warned.

A thematic review by HM Inspectorate of Prisons found that current behaviour management schemes have been ineffective, particularly, in reducing violence, which is at historically high levels in all types of institution.

The review - Incentivising and Promoting Good Behaviour - was commissioned by the Youth Justice Board and focusing on children held in secure training centres (STCs) and young offender institutions (YOIs) looked primarily at the issue of the relationships between young people in custody and the staff charged with their care.

"Those relationships are crucially influenced by staff turnover, which can lead to a lack of consistency in approach, staff shortages and, all too frequently, a lack of sufficient time out of cell."

"The issue of inconsistency in behaviour management is important as it damages the all-important element of trust in the relationship," Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons said.

"Inspectors found that far too often the rewards and sanctions associated with behaviour management schemes were focused on punishment rather than incentive, and were prone to generate perceptions of favouritism.

"Too often, during inspections, we have seen rewards and sanctions schemes that are overwhelmingly punitive, and the response to poor behaviour is to become locked in a negative cycle of ever greater restriction."

The review also found that a combination of staff shortages and increasing levels of bullying and violence had led to many young people spending long periods of time in their cells with little to occupy them. Young people and staff agreed more time out of cell would have the greatest impact on promoting positive behaviour.

It also found that too often inspectors found that institutions accepted poor behaviour as unavoidable instead of setting and maintaining high standards.

The report adds that there are now some young people within the estate who do not respond positively to existing behaviour management schemes and who require a higher level of support than is currently offered.

Meanwhile, young people from a black or minority ethnic background were less likely to report being treated fairly by the rewards and sanctions scheme than white young people.

Clarke said: "The impact of poor behaviour by others on those who wish to make progress in education, training and rehabilitation can be severe."

"Institutions holding children and young adults have undergone notable change over recent years as the population of both groups has reduced. While this reduction is welcome, there is evidence from inspection that outcomes for those that remain have been significantly impacted by deteriorating behaviour.

"It is widely accepted that the amount of time a child or young person spends unlocked and out of their cell has an important impact on their behaviour. There is also a need to confront bullying and violence, and not to fall into the trap of believing that it is inevitable, given the smaller and sometimes more challenging nature of the children's and young people's population in custody."

Last July Clarke warned that youth custody is so dangerous that tragedy is "inevitable" unless urgent action is taken.

Earlier this month it emerged that the average number of hours young people in custody spend in the classroom has fallen in the past two years despite government efforts to improve education provision.

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