are children unsafe in custody?

"not a single one of the youth custody establishments was safe to hold young people"

Peter Clarke, the Chief Inspector of Prisons who earlier this year concluded that the decline in standards in prisons and youth custodial institutions was staggering, has now reported further.

This is in light of his earlier recommendations not being implemented, and the Government’s planned prisons bill to deal with issues arising from problems in the custodial estate, being one of the pieces of legislation sacrificed in order to achieve a coalition with the DUP.

The alarming conclusion of Mr Clarke is that not a single one of the youth custody establishments was safe to hold young people.

This is a startling conclusion and casts doubt on the Ministry of Justice’s claim that “the safety and welfare of those in its care was an absolute priority”.

The reality of the matter is that years and years of cuts in spending have brought about a situation where there are less prison staff manning the institutions and there are less of those institutions. Young people have therefore a less nurturing environment and a less enriched environment within the institutions and there is therefore less chance of rehabilitation. Additionally, there is more chance of boredom, frustration and violence both amongst young inmates and between detainees and staff.

As I have previously highlighted on this website, the situation is still worse for youths from the North West of England because most of the youth detention establishments in the North West have been closed, leaving only Barton Moss (which itself is primarily limited to under 15’s). Therefore, those young people aged 15, 16 and 17 from the North West of England are now residing in establishments spread across the rest of the country and we now know that not one single one of those establishments is safe.

It is difficult to argue against Mr Clarke’s conclusion that a tragedy or tragedies in youth custody is now inevitable. A most depressing thought.

It is only to be hoped that the Youth Offending Teams and the Magistrates weigh this very carefully in the balance when they are making recommendations or sentencing (respectively) young persons and weighing the risks implicit in leaving a young person in the community against the risks of sending them into one of these custodial institutions many miles from home.

Rob Moussalli - Burton Copeland