Young offender institutions (YOIs) are largely failing to prepare children they release to live safe, law-abiding and productive lives in the community, according to today’s joint report from the prison and probation inspectorates.
In too many case, those released do not have suitable accommodation lined up in time for the necessary support services to be put in place. Most have no training, education or employment arranged and mental health support is often lacking.
Inspectors also found inadequate planning to protect others, including families and younger children, from the risk posed by those released.
Every year, hundreds of children are released into the community from the five YOIs in England and Wales – many of them with very profound needs for support and follow-up care. Some pose a serious risk of harm to others.
Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, and Justin Russell, HM Chief Inspector of Probation, said:
“We saw some examples of excellent resettlement work which offered children the best opportunities to change their lives and successfully reintegrate into their communities.”
A common feature of the good examples was a ‘team around the child’ approach in which professionals worked together across agency boundaries.
“More often, though, we found that, while children were in custody, there was not enough productive resettlement work; this had detrimental consequences for them when they were released. The most damaging outcome was a lack of suitable accommodation identified in time for other services to be in place.”
Ten days before release, almost 14% of children released in the first three months of 2019 did not know where they would be living after leaving the YOI. Most did not have education, training or employment arranged.
The inspection looked in detail at 50 cases of children released. Data were also gathered on 115 children released in the first three months of 2019 and from a survey of over 600 children in custody.
“We judged that 38 out of 50… did not have these services in place at an appropriate time before their release. Mental health support was also, too often, not in place.”
Inspectors found that staff in YOIs – in casework, education and health care – were committed and enthusiastic, and interested in the welfare of the children. There was some imaginative resettlement work in all of the YOIs.
However, the report noted: “With the exception of the casework team in Wetherby, none of the YOI-based agencies or departments we inspected were sufficiently focused on resettlement.”
Inspectors were concerned by a range of systemic weaknesses:
- YOIs tended to concentrate on delivering services while the child was in custody that met their immediate needs and risks. Not enough thought was given to their future.
- YOIs did not consider sufficiently often the risk to others that the child might pose on release.
- None of the children who spoke to inspectors felt that the work that they had done in the YOI had helped them towards doing better on release.
- Good work in mental health support during custody was often negated by a lack of attention to continuing support on release.
- The risks that the child posed to other people once back in the community – to families and children, and to the public – were too often not sufficiently considered, leaving some people at risk of harm. Additionally, the risk to the children themselves was not always fully considered and they were left vulnerable to being drawn back into unsafe behaviour. In three-fifths of cases, inspectors judged that suitable services were not in place at an appropriate time before release to manage risk of harm to others.
- The children who reached 18 years old while serving a custodial sentence and were transferred to adult offending services faced additional difficulties with the loss of their rights to children’s services and the different expectations placed on them, often with little preparation or understanding.
- Resettlement planning and interventions were mostly resource-led and formulaic. Children were ‘fitted in’ to what was available within the YOI, with little attention paid to their individual needs.
Mr Clarke said:
“YOIs have not fully grasped the essential function of resettlement. They frequently neither enabled nor required their casework and other teams to deliver it. In addition, they have not ensured that resettlement work is understood, respected and prioritised across the whole YOI.”
Mr Russell said:
“We found children and young people are being let down and are not being supported to succeed on release. Good mental health support in custody needs to continue in the community. Education and training should lead to purposeful activity and help individuals to fulfil their potential. Children and young people should have safe and secure accommodation on release. It is disappointing to see that four years after we last looked at this issue, so many of the same issues remain.”
Thanks to Andy Aitchison for kind permission to use the images in this post. You can see Andy’s work here.