Chief inspector of prisons slams closure of Thorn Cross unit

The Youth Justice Board has closed England’s only open juvenile unit, at Thorn Cross prison in Cheshire, despite it being rated a beacon of good practice.

A report from the prisons inspectorate, published today, found the unit had been performing well in all the four key tests of safety, respect, purposeful activity and resettlement. In the light of the decision to withdraw funding, chief inspector of prisons Anne Owers said the inspection was “an obituary, rather than a report on progress”.

Owers said the decision to close Thorn Cross before there were any concrete plans for alternative open units, and largely for immediate financial reasons was “disappointing and retrograde.”

The YJB had been paying for 60 places at the 320 bed open establishment at a cost of almost £3m a year since 2000, until it withdrew funding at the end of March because only a third of places had been filled by under-18s on a regular basis.

However, it said it remained committed to providing open conditions for young people in custody.

In a statement, the board said: “The YJB’s view is that a large, single, mixed adult and young person open unit is not viable, runs counter to the principle of creating links with the young person’s home community, and was part of the reason that Thorn Cross struggled to fill the available places.”

The board is now considering using a number of pilots of small units across the country.

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