The appalling conditions endured by 18-to-20-year-olds in custody
have long been deplored by campaigners and the chief inspector of
prisons, who describes the group as the “lost
generation”, writes Clare
Now, exclusive research carried out for Community Care
as part of our ‘Back on Track’ campaign has found that this group
are also bearing the brunt of the population pressures in prisons
and are being moved from jail to jail, being forced to spend their
usually short sentences in a variety of establishments.
Not only is this disruptive and distressing for this vulnerable
group, but it has a knock on effect on their education and mental
health, and the distance they are held from their home.
In its first term in office, the government focussed heavily on
children who offend and injected cash and resources into the
juvenile estate. This has resulted in the creation of the Youth
Justice Board, the establishment of youth offending teams to work
with young people, and a focus on community alternatives to
However, this emphasis on the under-18s has only served to
highlight the awful conditions the 18-20 year old “young
adult offenders”, who are too old to benefit from the Youth
Justice Board’s reforms, are subjected to.
On 8 October there were 8,152 young adult offenders in prisons
in England and Wales, around one in five were on remand. However,
this is just a snapshot and does not show the true extent of the
total number of 18-to-20-year-olds who enter prison in a year as
many just spend a few months in jail.
In 2002, 16,230 young adults were received into prison on remand
awaiting trial or convicted awaiting sentence. More than a quarter
were sentenced to three months or less, and more than half were
sentenced to six months or less. Over 80 per cent were sentenced
for non-violent offences.
At the end of July this year there were 47 prisons holding five
or more young people and figures from the following month found
that more than half were overcrowded. Six of the designated YOIs
were also overcrowded.
“Population pressures have forced establishments holding
young adults to take emergency action to accommodate the increase
in numbers,” said the report. “This has often meant
that single cells designed for one person have been fitted with
bunk beds to contain two prisoners in a process described by prison
staff as ‘doubling up’.”
Thirty out of 47 establishments holding young adults had them
“doubling up”. In the cells that did not have decency
screens, young people were forced to use the toilet in front of
each other and eat their meals in the same cell. Some had to use
the wash basin to clean their plates.
|CC’s Mark Ivory promoting research
Our research finds that, during their often short stays in
custody, the 18-20 year olds were also moved on to several
establishments creating a “churn”. As new prisoners
arrived from courts, offenders were shipped out quickly to another
less crowded establishment – but one which could be miles
Even Home Office minister Paul Goggins acknowledged in May this
year that it was not the numbers in prisons that was a real
challenge but the movement around the system.
The PRT questioned Independent Monitoring Boards on behalf of
Community Care about their fears for the
18-to-20-year-olds and half the boards highlighted the movement of
young people and the problems it caused.
“The continuing high turnover of inmates continues to
cause concern with trainees unable to complete their
courses,” said the IMB at Feltham, west London.
“Prisoners are transferred to other establishments as far
afield as Castington [Northumberland].”
The IMB at Reading added that often inmates were moved when they
were at a “crucial” stage in their education but that
nothing could be done to stop the move.
The report warns that when young offenders are moved to an
establishment that cannot meet their needs, they can be locked in
their cells for hours, with potentially “serious
“There were a few instances of young offenders who, once
sentenced, became so depressed at the prospect of being locked up
for so long that they self-harmed and refused food,” reported
the IMB at High Down.
The PRT also questioned focus groups of young offenders. Two
thirds said they had spent time in another prison. They reported
frustrations at being moved to a prison that did not run a course
they had been half-way through and concerns about moving to a new
establishment where they did not know the staff or inmates.
Juliet Lyon, director of the PRT said the report presented a
“Despite some pockets of good practice, thousands of young
prisoners face high levels of movement from jail to jail,
impoverished regimes and inadequate preparation for release.
“Small wonder perhaps that three quarters are reconvicted
within two years of leaving prison,” she added.
Although the Youth Justice Board has a target to reduce the
number of children in custody who are held long distances from
their home town, the Prison Service does not. As a result in July
this year more than a third were held more than 50 miles away from
home, just under a quarter were held between 50 and 100 miles, and
one in 10 was held over 100 miles away.
Two thirds of young adults in our research said they had been
moved to a prison which made it more difficult to keep in touch
with their families.
Home Office “refutes”
A Home Office spokesperson acknowledged that population
pressures could impact on offending behaviour work and the distance
offenders were held from home. “However the Prison Service is
committed to helping maintaining family ties as a key factor in its
resettlement strategy and the government is taking action to ensure
courts have robust alternatives to custody,” she added.
The spokesperson “refuted” allegations that the Home
Office was failing to meet the needs of young offenders and said
the Prison Service was “working hard” to prepare
offenders to lead law abiding lives.
She also stressed that funding for education in YOIs had been
increased and that this had enabled the Prison Service to appoint
senior heads of learning and skills, responsible for raising
standards and improving continuity.
But Lyon argued: “A manifesto commitment was given in 2001
to build on the youth justice reforms to improve things for
18-to-20 year-olds. This report reveals the social and economic
costs of a broken promise.
“Importantly, it sets out an agenda for change and points
the way to reserving prison for those sentenced or remanded for
serious and violent offences,” she added.
Agenda for change
The report calls for:-
• Increased investment in provision for young adults in
the criminal justice system
• The promotion of alternatives to custody for
• An end to the use of custodial remand for young adults who
commit non-violent offences
• A review of provision to develop an informed strategy for
young adult offenders
• Increased provision in diversion schemes for young adults
with serious mental health problems
• The development of small custodial units as close to home
as possible for 18-to-20-year-olds who present a genuine threat to
• The appointment of a director of young prisoners with
overall accountability and responsibility for the young adult
estate to be appointed
“Young adults in custody should be a high priority for
government,” says the report. “They are a prolific
offending group who have a strong likelihood of becoming long-term
“Their time in prison is critical if they are to be turned
away from a life of crime,” it concludes.
* This research was produced for our ‘Back on track’
campaign. For further information got to www.communitycare.co.uk/backontrack
‘A lost generation: the experiences of young people in
prison’ from 020 7251 5070