CHILDREN IN CUSTODY feel safer than ever before but are isolated from their friends and families and are continuing to receive inadequate education, a new report has found.

Children in custody 2021–22 analysed survey data from every young offender institution (YOI) and secure training centre (STC) inspected by HM Inspectorate of Prisons in 2021-22, which included six YOIs and two STCs in England and Wales.

Maintaining contact with families and friends, where it is safe to do so, is a key factor in improving outcomes on release and reducing the risk of reoffending. While STCs had been quick to lift restrictions on visits, children in YOIs continued to report very limited visits with friends and families. Pre-pandemic, 77 per cent of children in YOIs reported that they received visits from friends or family. In 2021-22, this fell to 60 per cent, meaning 40 per cent did not report having any visits at all. This is perhaps not surprising given that many children were placed more than 100 miles from their home and much more needs to be done to facilitate contact between these children and their families.

Education delivery was just over half the pre-pandemic level in most YOIs, meaning most children were receiving 15 hours a week of education instead of 27 hours. Only Parc YOI in Wales continued to offer 25 hours a week. Children continued to spend too long in their cells. While nearly all children in STCs spent more than two hours out of their cells at weekends, only 35 per cent in YOIs reported doing the same. While this was no worse than before the pandemic, it reflects a long-term failure to provide enough meaningful activity for children in YOIs, particularly at the weekend.

Charlie Taylor, Chief Inspector of Prisons, said: “We believe that gains in key areas like safety and care – which should be celebrated – have been made at the expense of children’s progress in their education or their ability to see friends and family. This was completely avoidable. If children are to lead successful, crime-free lives on release, the Youth Custody Service needs to take urgent action to stop the decline in education, skills and work provision.”

The number of children who reported having ever felt unsafe in YOIs had fallen to 25 per cent; the lowest figure recorded since the question was introduced in 2001. More children also reported feeling cared for and treated with respect than pre-pandemic. Children and young people from ethnic backgrounds other than white, however, who accounted for 56 per cent of children surveyed, reported less time out of cell and more often experienced victimisation by staff. They were also more likely to be restrained by staff and had less faith in the complaints system.

Mr Taylor added: “Again and again we report on concerns about equality and diversity across the prison estate. At every YOI inspection in 2021-22 we identified weaknesses in provision and had key concerns that needed to be addressed. Last month, we published an important report on the experiences of black adult male prisoners and prison staff, and it is concerning although sadly not surprising to be finding differences of experiences among children too. These findings have to be taken seriously and acted on.”

* Read: Children in custody 2021–22 here.

* Read: The experiences of adult black male prisoners and black prison staff here.

* Source: HM Inspectorate of Prisons