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Russell Webster

Russell Webster

Criminal Justice & substance misuse expert and author of this blog.

Children leaving custody “set up to fail”

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Children and young people released from young offender institutions are getting too little support in the community and are being “set up to fail”, according to a new report by the Prison and Probation inspectorates.

Children and young people released from young offender institutions are getting too little support in the community and are being “set up to fail”, according to a new  joint report from HM Inspectorate of Probation and HM Inspectorate of Prisons which followed the experiences of  50 children and young people released from all five young offender institutions across England and Wales. Today’s report looks at the support they received from youth justice services in their first three months after release.

Twelve to seventeen-year-old boys and young men who have committed serious or multiple offences are sentenced to detention and training orders, with half the time served in custody and half in the community. Inspectors found the second half of the sentence often did not build on – or even worse, ignored – what had taken place in custody. 

Key findings

Of the 50 young people tracked by inspectors:

  • Criminal justice outcomes were poor. Three months after release, ten of our sample of fifty had already been convicted of a further offence and over half were under police investigation. Ten had been breached and six had gone missing.
  • After release, thirty of the young people returned to live with their families; eleven returned to local authority accommodation and seven went to live in supported accommodation, often unregulated. Some children were not told where they would be living, until just days before release and we only found one case where a looked after child returned to the accommodation they were in before sentence.
  • There was very little join up of education and training in custody and after release. Very few YOT education and training workers visited the child in custody and education or training began immediately after release for only 11 of the 50 cases we inspected
  • Over 60 per cent of cases had an identified health need in custody but in only 26 per cent of cases was there evidence that the YOT provided support or intervention for these needs after release
  • While substance misuse was identified as an issue while the young person was in custody in three quarters of the fifty cases, substance misuse work was only delivered after release in 44 per cent of the cases where it should have been.
  • Of the 50 cases we inspected, we judged that 37 had needed input from children’s social care services but that only six of these had received adequate help with their resettlement needs.
  • Three-quarters of the case managers we interviewed told us that they had had no training in managing resettlement cases.
  • Of the 50 cases we inspected, 10 children became 18 years old while in custody and some of those were being transferred to adult probation services but in discussion with probation staff in the community it became apparent that none had been trained in this area of work.

Chief Inspector of Probation Justin Russell said: 

“Children and young people are not getting the help they need to prepare for release and to resettle back into the community. There are specific programmes to help individuals prepare for release, but none of the people in our sample attended one.
We found staff in youth offending teams had little knowledge of the activity that had taken place in custody, and were unable to build on this work in the community.
Many of these children and young people need help to find accommodation and to get into education, training or employment. Those with substance misuse and mental health issues also need seamless support in the community. If the right services are not in place, these often-vulnerable people are being set up to fail.

The two Inspectorates published an interim report in August that looked at the experiences of the same group as they prepared for release. Inspectors found frequent examples of poor planning.

Chief Inspector of Prisons Peter Clarke said: 

“In some cases, planning started just 10 days prior to release or even after release – this is too little, too late to be effective. A lot of the activity that we saw in custody focussed on containing children and young people, managing their behaviour or simply trying to fill their time.”

The graphic below shows the interventions delivered to this cohort of 50 young people after release:

Case study

Kieron (not his real name) was a young person in care who committed a sexual offence. During his time in custody, he did not attend education sessions or undertake any work to address his sexual offending, despite posing a continued risk to girls and young women. Kieron indicated he wanted to move to a new area on release to avoid reoffending; staff were unable to find alternative accommodation and, on the day before release, he was informed that a space had been found for him at his previous address.

Kieron turned 18 during his time in custody. His status as a Looked After Child meant that he could have continued to receive support from a youth offending team. Instead, he was transferred to adult services, even though it is not clear why staff thought this would be in his best interests. He met his probation officer for the first time just two weeks before release.

On release, Kieron was required to report to a probation office and a police station; his social worker picked him up but neither of them knew the locations. Over the course of his sentence, Kieron had three probation officers, two youth offending team officers, and two social workers. He was allocated and reallocated to two probation offices in different towns. A month after release, Kieron was arrested for a new sexual offence and was recalled to custody.

Conclusions

Mr Russell concluded: 

“The Inspectorate published a report on youth resettlement in 2015 and it is immensely disappointing to find that many of the same issues remain.
Our recent inspection found that a lack of suitable and safe accommodation is still an ongoing problem. Local authority reluctance to pay for accommodation in advance means that some individuals were only informed of their new address on the eve or day of release. And we saw young people being offered accommodation many miles away from family and in places where they did not know anybody. Yet staff did not consider the emotional impact this could have on individuals. It is little wonder that one young man told us he felt ‘like a parcel’ sometimes.
We have made a number of recommendations in this report aimed at government departments and agencies. There needs to be a national network of community based accommodation for children who pose the highest risks to the public and better coordination between staff in custody and in the community to ensure children and young people get help to plan, prepare and thrive on release. This is not just in the individual’s interests. Their families, communities and society as a whole stand to gain from people living crime-free lives.”

Thanks to Andy Aitchison for kind permission to use the header image in this post. You can see Andy’s work here.

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