A recent Ofsted report on secure accommodation for young offenders found that most were held too far from the family home for resettlement to be effective, writes Dean Woodward (pictured).
Community Care’s article on the topic pulled out an example of a boy placed 200 miles from his home where his family could visit him only once during his four-month sentence.
The defence made by the chief executive of the Youth Justice Board was that the overriding priority is that the individual’s needs are being met while in custody.
What is the solution? Do we build more local secure estates closer to young people’s homes? Do we invest more in resettlement to provide the youth offending teams and children’s social workers who can travel the vast distances more regularly to the current secure estates? Do we place young people in the closest secure estate with a vacancy and then consider their individual needs if there is a problem?
The problem is that none of these solutions is possible due to safeguarding responsibilities and economic restrictions.
Perhaps it is better to re-examine the example highlighted and ask what the purpose is of a four-month detention and training order. Only half of a four-month sentence is served in custody so what could possibly be expected to be achieved by YOTs and children’s social services in nine weeks? Even if the young offender was placed two miles from his home, I doubt anything more could be achieved in those nine weeks.
Recent comments from justice secretary Kenneth Clarke, combined with the need for £2bn savings from the YJB, may make the expensive option of custody less attractive. This could be an opportune time for legislation to shift from short-term custody sentences to community options. Resettlement efforts could then be focused more on the smaller cohort of longer-serving young offenders.
Dean Woodward is assistant director of Lambeth Specialist Youth Services
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