Two reports published today paint a bleak picture of youth custody in England and Wales. While the number of children in custody continued to fall in 2022-23, levels of violence and self-harm rose by just over a quarter and a third respectively.
In addition to the levels of violence, the report also found that children continued to spend far too long alone in their cells, with 28% of those with less than two hours unlocked each day doing absolutely nothing with their time in custody.
Almost all of the themes identified were also apparent in a report from an inspection of Werrington YOI, completed in August 2023, and also published today. This found that serious disorder had increased by 76% since the last inspection, only a year earlier, with multiple incidents requiring the deployment of national resources.
While levels of staffing are a problem in adult prisons, children’s establishments are richly resourced with Werrington, for example, employing 340 staff to care for just 89 children. The profile of staffing, however, meant that while there were plenty of senior managers, the jail suffered from a shortage of the frontline officers who should be working directly with children. Half of these officers were unavailable for duties at the time of inspection because they were unwell or had been injured in the course of their work.
‘A broken system’
Nacro chief executive Campbell Robb said: “Today’s reports are a damning insight into a broken system. It is shocking that vulnerable young people are being locked up for up to 22 hours a day and left alone, with limited access to purposeful activity or education. What hope do they have of learning, developing and having a chance at rehabilitation? Enough is enough. We should not be taking traumatised, vulnerable young people and putting them through a failing system entrenched with fear and violence. We need a radical overhaul of the whole of the youth estate. No child should be sent to prison unless it is absolutely necessary, and all other options are exhausted.”
Read the full Children in Custody report
Read the full HMYOI Werrington report