22nd October 2015

Placing young offenders in isolation hinders rehabilitation

  • Children’s Commissioner calls for an end to placing children in long-term solitary confinement
  • Report reveals some children in custody are held in isolation for 22 hours and more to maintain order
  • Black/mixed heritage and looked after children more likely to experience isolation
  • Call for Secretary of State to replace large children’s prisons with small secure units

 

Ahead of the Secretary of State’s review of justice, the Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield OBE, has called on the Government to replace large children’s prisons with smaller secure units to improve access to education and rehabilitation.

A report published today, Unlocking Potential, details how children kept in Young Offenders Institutes are more likely to suffer violence and longer periods of solitary confinement and, says the Children’s Commissioner, are more likely to reoffend over a longer period.

Anne Longfield said:

“Keeping children in units where they are likely to suffer violence, intimidation and longer periods of isolation has long-term costs children in those environments are more likely to reoffend when they are released.  When children are kept in isolation their education is disrupted and it is far harder to reintegrate them into society once they have served their sentences.

“The Justice Secretary needs to take note of this report and consider replacing large children’s prisons with small secure units. These may be more expensive to run in the short term because they require a higher adult to child ratio but would be cost effective if they help to keep young people out of trouble in the future.

“The practice of segregating children for 22 hours or more per day should stop.  Even where there are children who may never be released from prison long periods of segregation is likely to have detrimental effect on their behaviour and outcomes.

“The number of children held in secure units has fallen dramatically in recent years to around 1,000 children from about 3,000 seven years ago so the effective reintegration of those who are released is within our grasp. We need to ensure that the right resources are available to eradicate reoffending on release.”

The research, commissioned by Children’s Commissioner for England, looked into how widespread isolation was, how long children were held apart from other children, which children were held and why they were held.

Other findings include:

  • looked after children are almost two-thirds more likely to experience isolation
  • Black and mixed heritage children are three times more likely to experience isolation
  • children assessed as a suicide risk are almost 50% more likely to be isolated although this is usually for their own safety.

The report found that children experience solitary confinement for a variety of reasons and lengths of time.

Some are locked away to prevent harm to others, some are locked up because of staff shortages, while others elect to be isolated to give them ‘time out’ from groups.

In Secure Children’s Homes (SCHs) and Secure Training Centres (STCs), where there is a higher ratio of staff looking after children, young people are usually placed in isolation for shorter periods.

In larger Young Offender Institutes (YOIs), which have low staff-child ratios, young offenders are more likely to experience violence and be affected by gang affiliations and, as a consequence, be placed in solitary confinement.

Along with the replacement of YOIs with smaller secure units, the Children’s Commissioner’s recommendations include:

  • a review should be carried out to examine why particular groups, particularly children from Black and mixed heritage, are more likely to be held in isolation
  • the isolation of a child should last no longer than necessary and should generally be of a short duration
  • all children should spend a minimum of eight hours out of their cell and in contact with other children, unless they present a serious risk of harm
  • all children should receive their full educational entitlement of 30 hours per week.
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