July 2, 2010: Failing Children In Prison
A new report published by the Howard League for Penal Reform has revealed that conditions for the vast majority of children in custody, boys aged 15-17, are not improving despite falls in the population in prison.
The Howard League has found that despite a 22 per cent reduction in the total number of children in custody over the last three years, the reduction has not been used as an opportunity to lower the proportion housed in young offender institutions, the most basic form of custody for children. The charity said that the fact that three quarters of children reoffend on release from prison shows that poor treatment exacerbates crime.
Life inside 2010: A unique insight into the day to day experiences of 15-17 year old males in prison is the first policy report to be published as part of the U R Boss project, supported by the Big Lottery Fund. The report was developed in conjunction with young people currently in custody and released into the community. Through a series of workshops and one to one work, young people identified the topic of this report, the issues they wanted discussed and key lessons for policy makers and practitioners.
The verdict of the young people they talked to was that prison was failing to help them. As one young person told us, "prison doesn’t do anything for you. They just hold you, feed you and give you somewhere to sleep".
Standards of education in prison received particular criticism from the young people working with the Howard League. Young people described how education "is really poor in prisons", where "all they do is pull out bits of paper and make people copy them". Those young people who had been in prison for longer periods described how "before we used to get 25 hours of education [a week], but now because of budget cuts we just get 15."
Howard League Director Frances Crook said:
"We have listened to young people in custody and produced a report that reflects their views and feelings about prison. The result is a damning indictment of a broken system that promotes violence and fails to provide education and services."
"Despite welcome falls in the number of children in custody, this hasn’t been used as an opportunity to improve conditions for those who remain in prison. Now that the youth justice system faces cuts of up to 25 per cent, to what new lows can we go in failing children who are in trouble with the law?"
The young people highlight numerous other failings in prisons, including:
- Automatic strip-searching on arrival to prison despite this being the most vulnerable time for children entering custody
- Failure to receive a daily shower
- A failure to achieve targets allowing children time out of cell
- Poor relations with staff due to staff ratios as low as three staff to every 60 young people
- Endemic violence and bullying where "the environment in prisons doesn’t make you want to achieve anything... Everything’s about violence".
- A disproportionate use of physical restraint and use of segregation where "Young people come out more violent. You can’t tell what it’s done to them."
- Failures in the quality and quantity of food resulting in poor concentration in classes and an adverse effect on behaviour
- • Young people reporting an average cost of 65p a minute for phone calls to family and a lack of family visits due to the distance children are jailed from their homes
- failure to engage children in their sentence planning, resulting in meetings that involve "a bunch of people arguing over things they can’t control"