We cannot afford to delay urgent action to address youth custody concerns, says Nacro Chief Executive, Jacob Tas.
“In recent months there have been almost daily reports of problems throughout the justice system, including the Chief Inspector of Prisons’ annual report warning that ‘a tragedy is inevitable’ due to no youth custody centres being found safe. The Children in Custody 2016-17 report from the HM Inspectorate of Prisons and the Youth Justice Board, now provides insight from the view of young people held in custody, revealing that 22% of male children in secure training centres (STCs) and 39% of male children in young offender institutions (YOIs) feel unsafe. Importantly, children that felt unsafe were more likely than other children to have negative experiences across a range of areas, including relationships with staff and victimisation from other children.
“High numbers of children held across YOIs and STCs have complex needs. 42% of children held at YOIs had previously been in care, 27% had mental health concerns and 31% had substance misuse issues. Although 38% of children held at STCs had previously been in care, more than a fifth of children in STCs said they had no one to turn to if they had a problem, meaning that many vulnerable children with complex needs were trying to manage their own problems without any support.
“At Nacro, we work with offenders and ex-offenders across the country, often with complex needs, supporting them to build positive and independent futures. A report from our policy and research programme, Beyond Youth Custody, found overwhelming evidence which showed that the majority of children and young people in custody come from disadvantaged families and communities, with experiences of childhood trauma such as neglect and abuse, and that trauma and mental health concerns will worsen during time in custody if not identified at the earliest opportunity. Therefore, improved access to individual and ongoing support for children in custody is vital. This must go hand in hand with effective resettlement which supports young people to have a more future-oriented and positive sense of self. Activities to achieve this will vary according to specific needs and circumstances for each young person but could include mental health support and therapy to deal with existing and current trauma, education and careers-focused learning to help young people identify and work towards their aspirations, and practical resilience training, to equip young people to deal with difficulties and setbacks, learn from them, move forward and thrive.
“We cannot afford to wait for problems across the youth estate to get worse or for an ‘inevitable tragedy’ to happen before action is taken. Sharing of expertise, joint working and partnership with government and organisations across the sector must happen now to address safety and resettlement concerns head on.”