Children in cells in YOIs for 23 hours per day, warns Independent Monitoring Board
Children in Young Offenders Institutions across England are being held in their cells for up to 23 hours per day, the Independent Monitoring Board has stated.
In her first month as the National Chair of the Independent Monitoring Boards (IMBs), Elisabeth Davies highlighted that in four YOIs, children were subject to severely restricted regimes and were commonly spending 19-21 hours a day in their rooms, some up to 23.
Sammy Odoi, managing director of Wipers, warned: "Keeping young people locked in their cells for 23 hours per day is futile and will only store up problems for the future. While in prison, young people should address their offending behaviour and what caused them to offend in the first place. They need to engage in education or training, learn a new skill, access housing and employment advice for when they are released if the cycle of offending is to be addressed."
"This needs to be coupled with access to mental health or addiction support."
"Leaving young people to fester in their cells will lead to a group of very angry and hostile young people leaving prison who have not been provided with the guidance required to turn their lives around and choose a different path in life," added Sammy.
Elisabeth Davies wrote to prisons minister Damian Hinds to call for urgent action to improve the conditions in which children are held across Young Offender Institutions in England.
Children are spending long period of time in their calls and are being denied access to purposeful activity and education, often caused by significant staff shortages.
Violence remains a problem and, in some cases, incidents were triggered by the impact of restricted regimes.
Attempts to manage violence by keeping children apart from those they are likely to have conflict with was a growing issue.
There is an increasing cohort of children with complex needs, such as histories of trauma and neurodiversity, whose needs were not being met.
The current conditions leave children that are already vulnerable, even more vulnerable. The safety and welfare of children in custody must be the priority, the IMBs urge.
Elisabeth Davies said: "Attempting to manage poor behaviour through restricting regimes, increased use of force and keeping children apart, fails to address violence and poor behaviour in the long term. If more focus was placed on providing structured and fuller regimes, cycles of violence and poor behaviour would be reduced and outcomes for children improved."
Prisons minister Damian Hinds replied two weeks later highlighting the context in which the number of children in custody has fallen from around 3,000 in 2008/09 to around 600 in April 2023. However, this means that the very small number of children that are detained are there for very serious offences – around two-thirds are detained for violence against the person offences. These offenders often enter custody with significant unmet needs and vulnerabilities – around 70% have special educational needs and many will have experienced significant childhood trauma.
"All that said, I accept that performance in the children and young people secure estate is not yet consistently at the level that I, my officials or you would wish it to be. For those children who are held in custody, we continue to take a series of clear and practical actions to make the estate more safe, more effective and more rehabilitative. Underpinning this is the framework for integrated care (‘SECURE STAIRS’) which seeks to support staff in working with children to provide trauma-informed care which addresses the causes of their offending behaviour and sustainable long-term support in preparing them for release," added Mr Hinds.
The minister stated that:
All young people should have appropriate access to education, skills and work provision with a consistent daily programme of purposeful activities. Improved management of staffing resources is a key part of consistent delivery and work is underway to review and reprofile resources.
The Youth Custody Service is resetting its focus on safety as the foundation to stable, decent, and supportive environments. All sites now have a safety strategy that reflects the local drivers of violence and includes tackling the use of weapons and the use of conflict resolution.
Young people should not be separated from their peers for disciplinary reasons and should only happen where it is necessary to manage their risk of serious harm to others and alternative interventions have been exhausted or are unsuitable. Additional resources have been made available to ensure there is robust management and accountability locally and a national single point of contact to review oversight arrangements for separation.
To provide young people with the support they need, the Framework for Integrated Care continues to be implemented in partnership with NHS England, which encompasses education, health, and behavioural support. Whilst full implementation was impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic and more recently, staffing resources, it remains the objective to fully roll this out.
Work has commenced with local and national Human Resource leaders to improve recruitment, retention and support for staff in the youth custody service.
"I understand the concerns you have raised and I personally assure you that providing young people with a safe environment where they have access to meaningful activities is of the utmost importance to me," concluded Mr Hinds.