The shocking scenes on the recent TV documentary from one of the country’s leading secure unit’s showed the appalling way young people in the custodial estate are sometimes treated. Whilst they are criminal they are above all else still children.
This was followed by reports of serious disorder at Wetherby YOI (a secure training centre for 15-17 year olds) last week . There is no suggestion that events at Medway have been repeated at Wetherby but the suggested causes were, reduced time out of the cell and reduced visiting time, both apparently due to staff shortages.
Clearly all is not well and this is a matter of huge concern as many young inmates are amongst the most vulnerable in society, many being the victims of past neglect, physical abuse, domestic violence and/or sexual abuse. It is also a matter of concern because unless “turned” at this young age, many will grow up to be prolific offenders.
What is less well publicised is a particular problem we have in the North West of England. From having numerous establishments dealing with young offenders a few years back we are now in a position where there is not a single one to house 15-17 year olds either as remand prisoners or as sentenced prisoners. Barton Moss remains as a secure establishment but this is only for 12-14 year old males and the most vulnerable 15 year olds. Both Lancaster Farms and Hindley (the 2 main 15-17 year old establishments in the North West over the years ) have both converted so as to house only older prisoners. A typical 15 year old remanded pending trial will now routinely go to Wetherby (about 75 miles away), and if not there then Rainsbrook near Rugby (about 120 miles away). This makes it extremely hard to arrange visits from family and friends (most of whom don’t have private transport) and goes against the longstanding guidance that young offenders should be housed as close to home as possible.
In my opinion the lack of secure training centres in the North West is a scandal and I can’t help fearing we are storing up problems for the future.
Robert Moussalli, Head of the Youth Court