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Restricted status for women and children in prison is counter-productive
Prison "restricted status" rules for women and child prisoners are not supporting their rehabilitation and reduction of risk, but in many cases actively preventing it.

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Restricted status

A new thematic inspection into restricted status children and prisoners held in women’s establishments published today (23 May 2023) concludes that prison service rules for managing those women and child prisoners who pose the greatest risk of harm to the public are, far from supporting their rehabilitation and reduction of risk, in many cases actively preventing it. 

Adult male prisoners who pose a risk of serious harm to the public are held in maximum security, category A prisons. With such small numbers of women and children in detention, there are no such buildings for those believed to pose the greatest risk of harm to the public. The risk of their escape is therefore managed by being assigned ‘restricted status’, which imposes a series of restrictions based on the management of Category A adult male prisoners.

Background

Restricted status (RS) in children’s and women’s prisons was introduced around 2010. The policy provided instructions on how to manage prisoners whose escape would present a risk of serious harm to the public.

Men are separated into four security categories: A, B, C and D, with A the highest security category and D the lowest, intended only for prisoners suitable for open conditions (see Glossary). Women can only be held in either open or closed prisons and children can only be held under RS in young offender institutions (YOIs). There are no high security establishments for women or children and some additional measures are therefore required to prevent escape.

During this review, RS children were held at HMYOI Wetherby and HMYOI Feltham A. Women could be held at three women’s prisons: HMP/YOI Low Newton, HMP/YOI New Hall, and HMP & YOI Bronzefield.

At the time of the inspection report just nine children and 18 women were subject to restricted status. It is good to know that the RS Criteria are strictly enforced: in the last five years a total of 115 women were referred to the category A team for consideration and of these, just 12 were classified as RS. In a recent 12 month period analysed by inspectors, 50 children had been referred, with 12 designated as requiring RS.

Findings

Inspectors were concerned that there was no in-depth risk assessment to determine whether an individual child or woman had the motivation, capability or resources to escape before deciding to apply restricted status and the additional security measures that went with it. In addition, most RS prisoners were subject to the same measures despite presenting different risks. There was no system to apply different levels of restrictions to take account of these differences, allowing those who were subject to restrictions to progress without putting the public at risk.

Oversight of restricted status prisoners, including decisions to remove additional restrictions, was undertaken by the long-term and high security prisons group director through a category A review board, which also managed category A adult male prisoners. Membership of the board did not, however, include leaders from the youth custody service (YCS) or the women’s estate, which would have added expertise and specialist knowledge and helped to deliver a more effective system, tailored to the specific risks posed by women and children.

Some children had previously lived in lower security settings – including secure training centres (STCs) and secure children’s homes (SCHs) – where they had no additional security measures applied, despite meeting the restricted status criteria. When they moved to more secure settings, they were subject to far more restrictions, despite the high levels of supervision in children’s YOIs. Inspectors were concerned at this situation and reported that the RS system offered no justification for such anomalies.

Conclusions

Perhaps the main consequence of individuals being held under restricted status is that many found it difficult to access important interventions to help them progress – such as education and offending behaviour work – which were critical to the reduction of their risks. The irony was that they were denied such access because they were deemed too risky. Such facilities were sometimes out of bounds to them or there were not enough staff to escort them there.

Many of the children and women inspectors spoke with knew why restricted status had been applied to them but were unsure how they were meant to demonstrate a reduction in risk.

Concerns

inspectors identified four priority concerns:

  1. The current policy did not take account of the different risks posed by women and children or the particular establishments in which they were held, including staffing levels and the physical security of these prisons. This had led to some leaders making decisions outside the policy.
  2. Children and prisoners in women’s establishments were often unable to demonstrate progression as many could not access rehabilitative interventions, education and other constructive activities due to their restricted status.
  3. Membership of the category A panel responsible for decisions on applying or removing restricted status did not include leaders from the women’s estate or youth custody service as specialists in these areas.
  4. Transfers of RS children to the adult prison estate were poorly managed and their risks in secure children’s homes or training centres were not assessed or responded to.

 

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

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