The government has suspended its plans to put young offenders in adult prisons once they reach 18 following opposition from peers and campaigners
The proposal, contained in the Offender Management Bill, would abolish the sentence of detention in young offender institutions for 18- to 20-year-olds and place them in adult prisons instead. Currently, only 18- to 20-year-old remand prisoners can be moved into adult prisons.
But young person’s charity Rainer warned it would withdraw its backing for the bill’s plans to open the probation service to competition if the government did not drop the proposal on young offenders.
During the bill’s second reading in the House of Lords last week, Home Office minister Baroness Scotland said the proposal would be withdrawn pending a Home Office review of 18- to 20-year-old prisoners.
However, the Prison Service later confirmed that the proposal could be brought back once the outcome of the review was known.
In the debate, Lord Eric Avebury attacked a Prison Service plan to move 18- to 20-year-old remand prisoners in the south-east of England to Wormwood Scrubs, Brixton and Wandsworth prisons in London from 1 May.
The plan is in response to population pressures at Feltham Young Offender Institution, which holds both juvenile and young adult prisoners.
Anne Owers, the chief inspector of prisons, told Community Care that designated places for 18- to 20-year-olds on remand were being freed up to ease pressures on juvenile places at the YOI, which reflected wider prison population problems across the country.
Owers warned that 18- to 20-year-olds were being placed “in the most pressured part of the system” in adult prisons, where regimes were not suited to their needs. She also raised concerns that prison overcrowding meant it was “extremely difficult” to do checks on vulnerable young offenders. “It’s just a case of sending someone where there is space,” she said.
In a report in February, Owers said young adults did best in institutions dedicated to their needs. But she added that dedicated units in adult jails could prove a more realistic solution.