The Justice Committee has recently issued a report calling on the Government to create ‘secure schools’ for children and young offenders (under 18) by 2022 ‘secure schools’ as a response to the high levels of violence and self-harm in custody, after it failed to deliver on its promise to open the first one in late 2020. The report follows concerns that secure estates such as Young Offender Institutions (YOI), Secure Training Centres (STC) or Secure Children’s Homes (SCH) do not offer the adequate resources for children and young offenders to rehabilitate, with questions arising around the issue of safety and mental health provisions.
In 2017, Peter Clarke, former Chief Inspector of Prisons, reported that no YOI or STC was safe to hold children and young people. The report also shows that the average monthly rate of self-harm incidents per 100 children and young people in secure estates doubled since 2014. Differences in the custodial experience of BAME children and white children was also an issue according to the report, with the Minister of State for Justice, Lucy Frazer, saying she was ‘disappointed that there is racial disparity in the criminal justice system.’
Secure schools are, therefore, part of a youth justice system reform proposed by Charlie Taylor, former Chair of the Youth Justice Board, as a way to put education ‘at the heart of youth custody.’ It is believed that reconceiving youth prisons as schools could reduce the high reoffending rates, tackle mental health problems and improve the educational attainment of children in custody.
The report says that the Government had agreed to open the first school in 2020, but a series of delays raised concerns over ‘the level of commitment demonstrated in achieving this aim.’ It adds: ‘The Ministry of Justice should set out why the opening has been subject to repeated delays. We recommend that it guarantee that the first school will open as now planned in 2022, and set out what is being done to ensure that that opening is achieved on time.’
The Justice Gap recently reported that less than 46% of young adult prisoners (between 18 and 25) feel that they are less likely to reoffend as a result of their experience in their current prisons due to lack the adequate age-specific policies to support rehabilitation.