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Young people share “grim reality” of life in custody in new survey

Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons says new survey sheds light on “particularly concerning” perceptions of day-to-day life in custody, with only one young offenders’ institution inspected in 2019–20 found to be sufficiently safe.

05/02/21

Young people share “grim reality” of life in custody in new survey

Surveys carried out by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) with children in custody have revealed “concerning” perceptions of their day-to-day life.

Nearly half of the respondents (47%) in Young Offenders Institutions (YOIs) and Secure Training Centres (STCs) said they could spend time outside most days, and less than half of children (45%) said they could go to the gym or play sports at least once a week.

The report, released this week, show findings from surveys carried out between April 2019 and March 2020, before the effects of the pandemic.

Three-quarters (75%) of children reported that they spent more than two hours out of their room on weekdays. However, this figure dropped considerably to only 39% when asked the same about weekends.

Less than a third (30%) of children believed the food to be ‘very or quite good’, and only 39% said they got enough to eat at mealtimes most of the time.

Half of children (48%) reported that it was quiet enough to relax or sleep at night, while 68% of children reported that they could shower daily.

The surveys were conducted with 613 children (aged 12-18) detained at three secure training centres (STCs), five young offender institutions (YOIs), and one separate specialised unit, to support HMIP’s unannounced inspections.

More than half (55%) of respondents were from a black and minority ethnic (BAME) background, and 52% of all respondents said they had been in the care of a local authority.

In many of the responses, the feedback from black and minority ethnic children painted a worse picture than their white peers. BAME children were more likely to say they had been restrained and were less likely to say they were cared for in custody or were well treated by staff.

Children from a Gypsy, Roma and Traveller background were the most disproportionately represented group, making up nearly 10% of the youth estate despite being a tiny proportion of the overall population of England and Wales. Children from a Traveller background were also much more likely to report feeling unsafe at the time of a survey compared to non-Travellers (23% compared to 8%).

Children’s perceptions of the support they had received to become rehabilitated were poor, with half (49%) of children saying they had learnt something that would help them on release. Only just over half told HMIP that their experiences in custody had made them less likely to offend in the future.

Forty-four per cent said they had been bullied or victimised by other children and, perhaps more concerning, the same proportion reported they had been bullied or victimised by staff.

Charlie Taylor, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said the findings show how much work must be done for children in custody to be given the support they need to lead “successful, crime-free lives” upon release.

“Nothing is more important than building effective, trusting relationships between staff and children, and this report shows that there is still a long way to go.

“Without further reductions in violence and restraint, and a greater focus on education and resettlement, the Youth Custody Service will continue to struggle to provide adequately for the children in its care.”

Read the full report: justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmiprisons/wp-content/uploads/sites/4/2021/02/CYP-report-2019-20-web.pdf

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