No reduction in use of prison custody for children

Statistics released by the Ministry of Justice and the Youth Justice Board over the Easter break show 9 out of 10 children in custody continue to be held in prison environments.

Data for 2016/17 shows 89% of children remanded or held in custody after sentencing were placed in either young offender institutions (YOIs) or secure training centres (STCs). This is the same proportion as last year. Both types of accommodation are modelled on adult prisons.

Of 863 children detained under criminal justice orders in February 2017, 609 were held in YOIs and 155 in STCs. Just 99 children were held in child-centred secure children’s homes run by local authorites or the voluntary sector.

Back in February, the Youth Custody Improvement Board recommended “a very clearly different approach to the current YOIs” and commented on the “appalling situation at Medway” STC – a reference to serious child abuse uncovered by BBC Panorama in the then G4S-run child prison.

Along with many other organisations, Article 39 believes children should only ever be detained in childcare environments, where staff are fully trained and supported to provide therapeutic care to the very small number who cannot be safely supported in the community. We believe the secure children’s home model provides the best basis from which to develop world-standard specialist secure provision.

We are deeply disappointed that the Government recently used the Children and Social Work Bill to change the law to allow children from England and Wales to be detained on welfare grounds in Scotland. We strongly lobbied against this change because it arose from dwindling provision rather than a strategic analysis of children’s needs and best interests. Once the Bill receives Royal Assent, looked after children detained on welfare grounds in Scotland will lose their right to consent to placements outside England and Wales. Independent reviews have also been removed from these children.

Reliance on resources in Scotland for ‘welfare detention’ will inevitably threaten the viability of secure children’s homes generally. There has already been a 21% reduction in secure accommodation places in England across the past six years, from 293 in 2010 to 232 in 2016. Conversely, the Scottish Government has stated that the detention of children from England and Wales in Scotland will assist the financial viability of provision there, noting “The withdrawal of English placements would lead to a loss of income to one or more of the Scottish units, with the possibility it would force at least one provider into an early and unplanned closure”.