Report on behaviour management of children and young people in custody

By Agencies
March 22, 2018

Fewer children and young adults have been in custody in recent years but the lives of those remaining have been “significantly impacted by deteriorating behaviour” that has not been tackled, according to Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons.

Current behaviour management schemes have been ineffective, particularly, in reducing violence, which is at historically high levels in all types of institution. Mr Clarke said: “The impact of poor behaviour by others on those who wish to make progress in education, training and rehabilitation can be severe.”

HM Inspectorate of Prisons has published a new thematic report – Incentivising and promoting good behaviour – based on a review commissioned by the Youth Justice Board and focusing on children held in secure training centres (STCs) and young offender institutions (YOIs), and young adults aged 18–20 held in YOIs.

The review looked at the “fundamentally important issue of the relationships between those detained and the staff charged with their care.” Mr Clarke said: “Those relationships are crucially influenced by staff turnover, which can lead to a lack of consistency in approach, staff shortages and, all too frequently, a lack of sufficient time out of cell. The issue of inconsistency in behaviour management is important as it damages the all-important element of trust in the relationship.”

Inspectors found that “far too often the rewards and sanctions associated with behaviour management schemes were focused on punishment rather than incentive, and were prone to generate perceptions of favouritism. Too often, during inspections, we have seen rewards and sanctions schemes that are overwhelmingly punitive, and the response to poor behaviour is to become locked in a negative cycle of ever greater restriction.”

The review reached other key conclusions:

  • Time out of cell: A combination of staff shortages and increasing levels of bullying and violence had led to many young people spending long periods of time in their cells with little to occupy them. Young people and staff agreed more time out of cell would have the greatest impact on promoting positive behaviour.
  • Interventions for young people who display the most difficult behaviour: The proportion of children and young people in custody who have been convicted of more serious offences has increased. The report noted: “Too often we find institutions which accept poor behaviour as unavoidable instead of setting and maintaining high standards. However, there are now some young people within the estate who do not respond positively to existing behaviour management schemes and who require a higher level of support than is currently offered.”
  • Bullying and violence: Witnessing or experiencing bullying and violence are part of everyday life for young people in custody.
  • Young people from a black or minority ethnic background: They were less likely to report being treated fairly by the rewards and sanctions scheme than white young people. “As young people from a black and minority ethnic background make up a large proportion of the population in custody it is important that the reasons for these perceptions are understood and addressed to improve behaviour”.

Peter Clarke said, “Institutions holding children and young adults have undergone notable change over recent years as the population of both groups has reduced. While this reduction is welcome, there is evidence from inspection that outcomes for those that remain have been significantly impacted by deteriorating behaviour.

“It is widely accepted that the amount of time a child or young person spends unlocked and out of their cell has an important impact on their behaviour. There is also a need to confront bullying and violence, and not to fall into the trap of believing that it is inevitable, given the smaller and sometimes more concentratedly challenging nature of the children’s and young people’s population in custody.”

Commenting on the report, Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “Last year the Chief Inspector of Prisons said that there was no prison in the land where a child was safe. This report, which supports the Howard League’s research, helps to explain why.

“It is scandalous that children are being held by the state in conditions where bullying and violence are a part of everyday life – and, by resorting to more and more punishment in a desperate attempt to solve the problem, understaffed prisons are making matters worse.

“Today I have written to the prisons minister, asking for a meeting to discuss the problem of additional days’ imprisonment. It is high time that this inhumane treatment of children was ended once and for all.”

* Read the report Incentivising and promoting good behaviour here

* HM Inspectorate of Prisons https://www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmiprisons/

* The Howard League for Penal Reform https://howardleague.org/

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