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  • Writer's pictureClare Jerrom

Too much violence in the children's secure estate

Updated: Jul 20, 2023

Levels of violence remain too high in the children's secure estate, the prisons inspectorate has warned.

With the exception of Parc Young Offenders Institution, which remained the safest and most productive institution, incidents of violence remained much too high in almost all of the young offender institutions, the inspectorate's annual report states.

"The fear of violence had created a vicious circle that meant children were more likely to carry and use weapons, ostensibly for self-protection, but which predictably resulted in further incidents," said the report. "Some children coming into custody could bring in conflict from outside, particularly when they were involved with gangs, but this was compounded by allocating them to small groups that had themselves taken on gang-like affiliation and behaviour."

"Attempts to get larger groups of children into education therefore led to increased conflict and the cancellation or restriction of activities," the report added.

Staff at YOIs have reverted to extensive and complicated ‘keep apart’ lists to prevent children in conflict with each other from mixing. However, establishments with this policy usually remain the most violent. Regimes are inevitably reduced because different groups have to be locked away before others can be let out.

The boredom leads to children calling out to each other through windows or cell doors and creating further hostility, the report warns. More focus on resolving conflict and motivating good behaviour is a much better solution to reducing violence, the report recommends.

However, the inspectorate warned that time out of cell and access to education, with the exception of Parc, required considerable improvement.

The quality of relationships varied across children’s prisons, but overall too few children felt cared for by staff. Across all sites, leaders needed to make sure that staff consistently challenge low-level poor behaviour and encourage children to engage with education and other activities.

No YOI met the inspectorate's expectation that children should be unlocked for 10 hours a day. Parc came the closest with between eight and 11 hours on weekdays.

Better preparation for release from custody was also required.

Sammy Odoi, managing director of Wipers, said: "It is absolutely vital that young people receive training and education during their time in the youth estate to help them to make better choices when they are released."

"Failing to prepare children for resettlement after custody is failing that child and a failure of the system as it will inevitably lead to re-offending."

"Young people need help and guidance throughout their sentence and a coherent plan in place when they are released. Assigning a mentor to young people on release from prison is a key way to ensure they have access to a trusted adult, and someone to go to for advice and support post release," he concluded.


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