Joint thematic inspection
Yesterday (23 November 2023) the inspectorates of prison and probation alongside Ofsted published a joint thematic inspection of work with children subject to remand in youth detention. Its headline conclusion was that some children could be better cared for in the community rather than youth detention.
At any given time, there are around 200 to 250 children remanded in youth detention. Some of these children are extremely vulnerable and a minority have been charged with very serious offences that resulted in life-changing injuries or loss of life.
The inspection found:
- a quarter of the children were released on bail before being sentenced, and inspectors judged that more of them could have been safely managed in the community.
- nearly half of the children in the cases reviewed had no previous convictions and some of the remands were long, lasting more than a year
- in many cases children made no comment at the police interview but this was not always to the child’s benefit as admitting the offence at that stage might have made bail more likely
- in just under three-quarters of cases the Youth Justice Service did not offer a bail programme at the child’s first remand hearing.
At any given time, between 200 and 250 children are remanded in custody. In the last year for which figures are available (2021/2022), 1,200 children were remanded in youth detention accommodation (RYDA) over the course of the year by the courts. These children are some of the most vulnerable in the country, and many have experienced significant trauma and exploitation in their lives. Some, but not all, are charged with having committed very serious offences that have resulted in loss of life or life-changing injuries to victims.
Remanded children make up an increasing proportion of the child custodial population. Children from black and minority ethnic backgrounds are over-represented in the remand population, and that over-representation is increasing.
Nearly half of the children in the cases reviewed by the inspectorates had no previous convictions although their difficulties were often known to other services.
A substantial minority of children had a significant history of escalating social care involvement, including receiving support through child protection planning, or they were already in care at the time of the initial remand (33 per cent of the RYDA sample).
You can see some of the key data in the infographic I have reproduced from the report below.
We have already seen that making no comment is not always in children’s best interests. Another issue is that when the police refuse bail and the child has to be held overnight to appear in court the next day, the police have a legal duty to consider releasing the child to children’s services’ care. The child was released in just four out of the 61 cases reviewed with a key problem being the absence of suitable local authority accommodation.
Often the discussion between the police and local authority was perfunctory and did not properly apply the tests set out in the legislation and guidance. Youth Justice Services (YJS) can support police bail to reduce the need for children to be detained, but most (57%) did not provide this support.
In just under three-quarters of cases the YJS did not offer a bail programme at the child’s first remand hearing. This was often because suitable accommodation was not available or YJS staff were not confident that they could manage the risks posed by the child in the community.
The alternative to custodial remand is community remand. This can be Remand in Local Authority Accommodation (RLAA), intensive supervision and surveillance bail or another bail programme. In our survey, 41 YJSs out of 115 had not had an RLAA in the previous 12 months. In many areas it was not a practical option, because of the lack of available placements, unless the child was placed at home or with another family member.
The secure estate
Children on remand can be placed in secure children’s homes, STCs or YOIs. Multiple overlapping planning and review meetings often take place, leaving the child confused as to their purpose. The quality of care at the secure children’s homes is good, and the secure estate and community-based services work together effectively for those children. The experience of children in STCs and YOIs is much poorer, see the Prison Inspectorate’s report earlier this week.
Returning to the community
Uncertainty about the length of the remand makes planning difficult. Children can be released on bail unexpectedly, or the child may be acquitted, sometimes after a lengthy period in youth detention. Inspectors saw good contingency planning in the secure children’s homes, where they often had parallel plans for the child being released imminently and for remaining in custody. This was not the case in STCs and YOIs.
Any child on remand for more than 13 weeks is eligible to care leaver support but this was not always provided.
Thanks to Andy Aitchison for kind permission to use the header image in this post. You can see Andy’s work here