The Youth Justice Board has announced today that it plans to reduce by 15% the number of places it funds in secure children’s homes, from 138 to 117 places.
This is a 47% reduction since 2009, when the Youth Justice Board contracted 220 places.
In September 2015, 70% of detained children were held in young offender institutions; 20% were held in secure training centres run by G4S; and just 11% were in secure children’s homes.
Secure children’s homes are governed by the same legislation as ordinary children’s homes. They have much higher staff to child ratios than young offender institutions, which are run by the prison service and by G4S (which operates Parc in Wales). The law requires that managers of secure children’s homes have appropriate experience, qualifications and skills, and they must ensure their staff group can “meet the needs of each child”. No such legal duties apply to young offender institutions and secure training centres. Moreover, the law sets out robust standards that must be followed by each home, and children are given greater protection from the routine use of physical restraint (it is not permitted because a child fails to follow orders, for example, as is the case in young offender institutions). The infliction of severe pain as a form of restraint is prohibited in secure children’s homes.
One secure children’s home is run by a charity; the remainder are run by local authorities.
This announcement comes a fortnight after the chief inspector of prisons found “deeply disturbing” use of restraint in child prisons and “little cultural change” since a new system of restraint was introduced in 2013 following the deaths of two boys, Gareth Myatt and Adam Rickwood, in 2004 in secure training centres.
In October, the Office of Children’s Commissioner for England urged “the decommissioning of young offender institutions and their replacement with smaller establishments with higher staff to child ratios based closer to the child’s family and community”.
Just last week, the Chief Executive of the Youth Justice Board, Lin Hinnigan, was reported to have told a conference of youth justice workers that they should be able to provide interventions which are “personalised and responsive to each [child’s] developmental, health and wellbeing needs” in children’s neighbourhoods and communities “rather than part of a prison service”.
Article 39’s Director, Carolyne Willow, responds:
“This further disinvestment in secure children’s homes props up a dangerous and discredited prison system. Young offender institutions are much cheaper to run than secure children’s homes, because they are places of punishment where children languish in locked cells with only an hour a day in the fresh air at best. When a child’s behaviour and circumstances have got to such a point that he or she cannot, for the time being, live freely within the community, we should not be surprised that specialised care comes with a high price tag.”