The Youth Justice Board has been urged to reconsider plans to build a 360-bed child prison at Glen Parva young offender institution in Leicestershire.
Frances Crook, chair of the Howard League for Penal Reform, has written to the YJB asking why the board is planning to build the split prison site for children and young adults, “given the current financial climate and the significant decrease in the juvenile prison population”.
In the letter, addressed to YJB chair Frances Done, Crook wrote: “Past experience tells us that it will be difficult to prevent the cross-deployment of staff, including governors, with the consequence that staff who have no specialist training in dealing with children will be working in the establishment.”
“It seems all the more surprising that this new build is pressing ahead at a time when the numbers of children being sent to prison is falling. The apparent expansion and huge capital investment gives quite the wrong message to sentencers,” she wrote.
Youth custody rates fell by 21% in the year 2008-9. At the end of 2009, for the first time in almost a decade, there were fewer than 2,000 under-18s in custody.
Crook highlighted a three-year set of principles and plans – under the Strategy for the Secure Estate for Children and Young People for 2005-6 to 2007-8 – which set out the YJB’s intentions to “improve regimes…and, in particular, reduce the numbers held on split sites” and expressed her concern that there had been “no consultation on this apparent reversal of policy.”
Consultation, Crook said, would “facilitate a public debate about the use of prison custody for children and could well result in pressure to reverse the decision to expand the prison estate.”
“This will be a huge institution replicating all the failures of such prisons holding children in the past… I urge the YJB to take the opportunity to reconsider… rather than commit any incoming administration following the general election to a significant commitment of taxpayers’ money,” she wrote.
John Drew, chief executive of the YJB, told Community Care that Glen Parva forms an “essential” part of the YJB’s long-term strategy to improve the quality of custodial services and “continues to be pursued by the YJB.”
“Most of the current custodial institutions were not specifically designed for children and young people, and standards and expectations have also risen in the last 10 years. The opportunity to have a modern, purpose built YOI is a great one, and will make a significant contribution to improving safety and effectiveness,” Drew said.