What do children say about being in custody?
Yesterday (25 January 2023), His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prison published Children in Custody 2021-22, which is an analysis of 12–18-year-olds’ perceptions of their experiences in secure training centres and young offender institutions. The report draws from the inspections of, and surveys of children carried out in six YOIs and two STCs in England and Wales. The number of children held in STCs and YOIs has sharply declined over previous years. As a result, the average population of under 18-year-olds held in both types of establishment was just 447 in 2021–22, compared with 939 in 2015–16.
Relationships between staff and children
The pandemic had a positive impact on children’s perceptions of relationships with staff in YOIs. Findings from inspections show that the decline in the population, and the reduction in the size of groups unlocked at the same time, had the effect of increasing the staff to child ratio. This gave staff and children more opportunities to get to know one another and build more effective relationships.
While these improvements are welcome, it is still concerning that 45% of children in YOIs reported that they did not feel cared for by most staff and 25% did not have anyone to turn to if they had a problem.
Positively the number of children who report having ever felt unsafe in YOIs has fallen to 25%; the lowest figure recorded since the question was introduced in 2001. Inspections of YOIs found that outcomes were reasonably good or better in three YOIs (Feltham, Parc and Wetherby) – an improvement from two in 2019–20.
For children who said they had felt unsafe, responses varied between the YOIs; from 12% of children at Parc – where we judged outcomes in safety to be good – to 38% at Werrington where outcomes were rated poor.
The recent reduction in population across all sites, combined with fewer hours of education delivery and the installation of more in-cell showers during the pandemic, have meant perceptions in some areas of daily life have improved in YOIs.
More children in YOIs reported that they could shower every day, could access their stored property and that the temperature in their cell was about right
During 2021–22, pandemic restrictions meant most YOIs delivered around 15 hours of education a week (with the exception of Parc which delivered 25 hours a week), compared with 25–27 hours a week before the pandemic. Inspectors said it was concerning that improvements in access to activities like outside exercise had been made at the expense of time in education. Inspectors also noted that education provision was substandard in all English YOIs and STCs although it was rated excellent at HMYOI Parc in Wales.
Children’s views on the quality of the food had improved in YOIs since 2019–20 and were better than the views of children in STCs. However, the food was still unpopular in all settings, with just 39% of children reporting that the quality of food was good or very good. Children’s experience of mealtimes varied dramatically; in the STCs and Parc YOI children could eat their meals around a table with other children and staff, but at the other YOIs most children ate meals alone in their cell.
Time out of cell
Nearly all children in STCs continued to spend more than two hours out of their cell (95% on weekdays and 91% at weekends). This was more than in YOIs, where 80% of children reported receiving more than two hours out of their cell during the week, falling to just 35% at the weekend. While this was no worse than before the pandemic it reflects a long-term failure to provide enough meaningful activity for children in YOIs, particularly at the weekend.
Thanks to Andy Aitchison for kind permission to use the header image in this post. You can see Andy’s work here