Young offenders reveal inconsistent care and treatment in custody

Female and black and minority ethnic young offenders gave more negative accounts of their experiences in prison

By Rachel Schraer

A third of young men in custody, and almost two-thirds of young women, have been in local authority care, according to research from the chief inspector of prisons.

The report, published today with the Youth Justice Board, revealed a 28% reduction in custody numbers and a general improvement in how 15 to 18-year-olds view their experiences in prison, but inconsistencies in the care of vulnerable young offenders.

The findings are based on surveys of 942 boys and 16 girls held in custody during 2012-13. A high proportion had a care background, while nine in 10 of the young men had been excluded from school and more than a third had not attended school since they were 14.

There were some improvements on last year’s findings. More young men said they were less likely to re-offend, that they felt they were treated with respect by staff and that they felt safe in their institution. But a significant number did not reflect this upward trend.

This was apparent in the wide range of experiences behind some of the average figures. Within a large range of institutions, the percentage of teens reporting fair treatment in rewards and sanctions schemes ranged from 41-81%, for example.

There was also variation between black and minority ethnic (BME) and female offenders’ experiences, compared with white males. Female inmates were more likely to report feeling unsafe in custody, while BME young people gave generally more negative accounts of their experiences in prison.

Minority groups were also less likely to turn to staff for help, report being bullied or feel that the education they received in custody would help them on release.

Nick Hardwick, chief inspector of prisons, said: “Most young people say they have been better able to navigate the experience of custody itself than in the past…[but] there are significant minorities of young people for whom this is not true and the variation across establishments is too wide. It is in these exceptions that the greatest risks lie.

“Young people may be generally able to manage the experience of custody better, but they are more anxious about how they will manage after release. They want to get a job and stay out of trouble but too many do not know where to go to get the help they need.”

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