The Youth Justice Board (YJB) has rejected claims that plans to build a new 360-bed child prison at a young offender institution in Leicester constitute a reversal of its policy to reduce numbers of children held on split sites.
In a recent letter to the YJB, Frances Crook, director of the Howard League for Penal Reform, urged the board to reconsider building the new prison on the existing site of Glen Parva YOI at a time of financial pressure and falling youth custody rates.
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.”
Crook highlighted the YJB’s 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”.
But Frances Done, chair of the YJB, told Community Care: “The new provision will be entirely separate from the young adult YOI on the adjacent site and the operator of the new unit will be decided through a tendering process.
“The operator which wins the contract will be required to have all staff working on the site specially trained for working with young people under the age of 18.”
Done said the prison was necessary due to a lack of provision for young people from the East Midlands who are sentenced to custody within the area.
She said there was “no intention to increase the numbers in custody overall” and pointed out that the YJB is decommissioning YOIs on split sites at Brinsford and Castington.
“Once the new unit is available it will be possible to withdraw from less satisfactory provision,” Done said.
But Crook said the YJB should be trying to reduce the number of child prisons overall not just replace old with new.
“Children should be kept close to home, in small, local authority units… Glen Parva is a titan child jail and, with a 76% reoffending rate, it is clear that these prisons do not work,” Crook said.