After delaying the publication of this post for nearly a year, the death of another young person in custody has spurred me to go ahead…

In December 2016 the government finally published the long-awaited and much-leaked Taylor Review of youth justice.

Time for “fundamental change” to youth custody

Here’s what I think should happen…

One of the recommendations was for a series of smaller secure schools to be established in order to put educational provision at the heart of the secure estate for children.

‘In order to reduce reoffending and transform the lives of the children coming into the secure estate, with all the challenges this population presents, fundamental change is needed to the current youth custody system.’ – Taylor Review, para.129

In my view, the most fundamental change required is to work towards closing all YOIs and expand the secure children’s home provision.

Here’s why:

3 reasons to phase out YOI’s…

  • Default, not design – YOIs were never designed with the needs of the current youth custody population in mind. They are essentially adult prisons with “youth wings” or areas set aside for children.

‘…youth custodial estate…has been arrived at by adaptation of an existing unsatisfactory estate rather than by design.’ Taylor Review, para. 126

  • Containment, not therapy – YOIs do not have the staff ratios, the expertise or the resources to offer these children the services they need if they are to rehabilitate into people who stop offending and live contented lives.

‘…it is clear that what is best for children has at times become secondary to containment, the management of risk and establishing uniform processes.’ Taylor Review, para. 13

  • Cheap, but not effective – YOIs are not cost effective. Yes, they are cheaper than other types of provision. But they’re less effective – rates of suicide, violence in custody and re-offending on release are all worse in YOIs than in both STCs and SCHs.

Time for a change…

The Chief Inspector of Prison’s summarised the problems in YOIs in his annual report for 2015-16 (p.61):

– Outcomes – “Outcomes for children in custody were not good enough during 2015-16”

Chief Inspector of Prisons. Image courtesy of ©?HMIP

– Safety – “All but one YOI was judged to be not sufficiently safe, with poor behaviour management and high levels of violence prevalent.”

– Regime – “Poor control of behaviour also affected the purposeful activity provided, and too many children were locked up when they should have been in class.”

– Respect & resettlement – “Outcomes in areas of respect and resettlement were generally better.”

So, while it’s not an entirely bleak picture, it’s not pretty either!

Conditions within and outcomes following a period in a YOI are not good for children. This is now long established and clear.

Here’s the bottom line: It’s time for change radical in youth custody – phase out YOIs and build more SCHs.

So, what DO we need?…

Well, the opposite of the above, really. For instance:

– More units – distance from family compromises resettlement. So placing children in custody nearer to home will require more units spread around the country.

– Small units – lower bed numbers allows higher staff ratios. These in turn mean more personal attention for children, better care and heightened safety for all.

– Therapeutic units – the children in custody today are complex. Many problems are longstanding and profound. Therapy to meet their needs is essential to reducing re-offending. That’s why ‘secure schools’ won’t cut the mustard when it comes to true rehabilitation.

All of these essential elements are present in units that are smaller, local and focussed on meeting children’s needs.

Final word…

Since 2009 the government has stopped commissioning 95 (correct at November 2017) beds in units exactly like this. Units that work. Units that perform well on outcomes, safety and reducing offending.

The answer to the myriad problems in YOIs is to phase them out and build more secure children’s homes.


Of course it’ll cost money – major social change always does!

What do you think?…

– Do you have a view of YOIs – what do you think?

– Please let me know your thoughts…   Leave a comment below or click here.

Related previous posts:

– Report – Repairing Shattered Lives: Brain Injury – Implications for Criminal Justice

– Why youth offending teams should also handle 18-21 year olds…

– Custody for kids: good & bad. Part 1…

– Custody for kids: good & bad. Part 2…

– Why secure care can work…for some

– Child first, offender second…

– Crime & punishment 3 – “Give a damn!”

– Crime & punishment 2 – cause & effect…

– Crime & punishment 1 – Why punishment isn’t enough…

– Troubled youth: re-writing the ending…

Never miss another blog post – click here. It’s easy and it’s free…

More info…

– Former YJB Chief blames lack of funding for youth custody problems – I agree!

– HM Chief Inspector of Prisons for England and Wales – Annual Report 2015-16

– Review of the Youth Justice System in England and Wales – by Charlie Taylor

Pass it on…

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© Jonny Matthew 2018

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