Daily Briefing

How UK prisons are failing young offenders

Watchdog says children are not getting necessary support to succeed in life following release

Inmates leaving young offender institutions are “being set up to fail”, penal reformers are warning.

According to a new joint report by the Inspectorate of Prisons and Inspectorate of Probation, Young Offender Institutions (YOIs) are not providing adequate support to help children and young people access housing, mental health support, education or employment when they leave custody.

The report says: “We judged that 38 out of 50 children whose cases we inspected did not have these services in place at an appropriate time before their release.”

Inspectors found that at Wetherby and Feltham, two of the five YOIs featured in the report, “the regime restricted contact with the children, which meant that case managers had to have conversations through door flaps, or when confidentiality was necessary, pass notes under the cell doors”.

Peter Clarke, the chief inspector of prisons, and Justin Russell, the chief inspector of probation, said another issue highlighted by the report was the “detrimental” consequences of failing to find young offenders “suitable accommodation... in time for other support to be put in place”, The Times reports.

The report authors found that in the first three months of this year, 14% of children nearing the end of their custodial sentence did not know where they would be living ten days before they were due to be freed, adds the BBC.

Frances Crook from the Howard League for Penal Reform said young inmates were being “set up to fail”, adding: “We have worked with children to find out what home means to them, and they told us that it meant much more than just a roof over their head.”

Inspectors also expressed concern that YOIs do not give “enough thought” to children’s futures nor “consider sufficiently often the risk to others that the child might pose on release”.

Probation watchdog Russell described the findings as “disappointing”.

“Children and young people are being let down and are not being supported to succeed on release,” he said.

Approximately 900 youths aged between 15 and 18 are currently in YOIs in England and Wales, down from 3,000 a decade ago, reports The Times.

According to the newspaper, 70% of those who serve a sentence of less than 12 months, and 57% of those jailed for 12 months or more, reoffend within a year of release.

Helga Swidenbank, executive director of the Youth Custody Service, told the BBC: “Good resettlement support is vital for children leaving custody and, while inspectors recognised examples of excellent practice, our standards have to become more consistent.”

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