An audit published today by the Howard League for Prison Reform has exposed the “dire” conditions experienced by children in young offender institutions.
The investigation carried out by the charity’s legal team for a court case analysed all recent reports into YOIs by Her Majesty’s Chief Inspectorate of Prisons.
It found a picture of “extraordinary squalor and institutional brutality”, where children are regularly denied access to showers, toilets or outside exercise areas, and are subject to strip searches by adult staff.
The charity said strip searching was particularly intrusive as young offenders are more likely to have been a victim of sexual abuse than other young people. Many institutions also failed to properly undertake required assessments, plans and reviews, said the report.
Earlier this month, a prisons inspectorate report into Cookham Wood YOI found that the prison was “seriously unsafe”, with children hiding in their cells for fear of being attacked by other inmates.
Further examples of poor treatment were found at other YOIs, including restraint fractures reported among children at Castington, over a third of children reporting feeling unsafe at Brinsford, a lack of formal education provision at Feltham and only 4% of prisoners being able to exercise outside at Huntercombe.
Warning that things may get worse
Frances Cook, the league’s director, said: “The concern must be that as we face a period of immense pressure on public spending, the treatment and conditions that children face in prison will significantly worsen as budgets are squeezed. Given that over three quarters of children re-offend within a year of release, it is time we recognised that prison is neither safe for children nor effective in cutting crime.”
Responding to the report, a Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “The National Offender Management Service (NOMS) takes full account of all inspections carried out by Her Majesty’s Chief Inspectorate of Prisons and endeavours to address all recommendations made in their reports.
“Work is continuing on raising the quality of the services provided and developing new initiatives that will help further ensure positive outcomes for all the young people.”