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Urgent action needed to improve poor conditions endemic in young offender institutions

In her first month as the National Chair of the Independent Monitoring Boards (IMBs), Elisabeth Davies has urged the Prisons Minister to take urgent action to improve the conditions in which children are held across young offender institutions (YOIs) in England.

IMBs across the four YOIs found that children were subject to severely restricted regimes and were commonly spending 19-21 hours a day in their rooms, some up to 23. In one month alone the IMB at Wetherby received 51 written representations from children regarding the negative impact regime restrictions were having on their mental and physical health. This is unacceptable treatment of children in custody.

IMBs also found that:

  • Children are being denied access to purposeful activity and education, often caused by significant staff shortages, leading to more time locked in their rooms.
  • Violence remains a problem and, in some cases, incidents were triggered by the impact of restricted regimes. While this is perpetuated by only a small number of boys the chilling effect is that many more children report feeling unsafe and unprotected in an environment where they should be safeguarded.
  • Attempts to manage violence by keeping children apart from those they are likely to have conflict with was a growing issue. For example, the IMB at Feltham A reported the attempted management of nine different regimes.
  • There is an increasing cohort of children with complex needs, such as histories of trauma and neurodiversity, whose needs were not being met.

IMBs have reported their individual concerns repeatedly over a number of years but these concerns are now endemic across all YOIs in England.

The current conditions leave children that are already vulnerable, even more vulnerable. The safety and welfare of children in custody must be the priority.

Elisabeth Davies, National Chair of the IMBs said:

“There have always been children with profound needs in the custodial estate. Often they can present a high risk to themselves and others.

Attempting to manage poor behaviour through restricting regimes, increased use of force and keeping children apart, fails to address violence and poor behaviour in the long term. If more focus was placed on providing structured and fuller regimes, cycles of violence and poor behaviour would be reduced and outcomes for children improved.  

Since the urgent notification at Cookham Wood we have noticed improvements on the ground. But there is still a long way to go to make sure the safety and wellbeing of all children is realised.

We urge the Minister to take action to reinforce and replicate these early signs of progress across the youth estate. This renewed focus on improving outcomes for children needs to continue.”

We received a response from Minister Hinds on the 8 August.