Khulisa welcomes the Justice Select Committee’s latest report on Children & Young People in Custody

Last week the Justice Select Committee published the second part  in their inquiry into Children and Young People in Custody. The report considers the condition of the estate in which they live and learn, and examines what options are open to children and young people as they leave the youth estate.

Khulisa’s position

Khulisa submitted a written response to the Justice Select Committee’s (JSC)  inquiry last year (read our full response here). We argued the following: 

  1. The secure estate is not a suitable place for children.
  2. The high reoffending rate persists because the secure estate has not changed to meet the needs of the vulnerable young people left in its care.
  3. Education provision in the secure estate needs to include social and emotional skills provision.
  4. There is an urgent need to prioritise staff training on the impact of trauma and how to respond appropriately to neurodevelopmental impairment.
  5. The use of force in the secure estate is inappropriate and disproportionate.

We were encouraged to see that the committee reached many of the same conclusions we put forth in our submission. Below is our response to the key issues raised in the report. For a fuller breakdown of the committee’s recommendations, read our full policy response here

 

1 Safety and the use of force and separation

Given our concerns about the inconsistent and often highly inappropriate use of separation and force, we welcome the committee’s recommendations to ensure more consistent and principled practice across the secure estate.

2 Mental health

Khulisa believes that the secure estate is not a suitable place for children at all, let alone children who need mental health support. Too often, custody is used where appropriate mental health treatment beds cannot be found for children. Around a third of children in custody report a known mental disorder and custody often acts as a barrier to obtaining appropriate mental health support. This is unacceptable. 

As such, we were glad to see the committee urge the MOJ and Department of Health and Social Care to identify mechanisms that ensure appropriate placement for children so that they are in the right place to receive the treatment they need.

3 Disproportionality in custody

The report found that not only are BAME children disproportionately represented in the secure estate, they are also disproportionately more likely to be subject to the use of force as well. 

In our own written response to the inquiry we argued that the Lammy Review principle of “explain or reform” (aimed at addressing disparities in treatment and outcomes of ethnic groups) had not been appropriately or sufficiently adopted.  We welcome the government’s commitment to implement the full remainder of the recommendations in the Lammy Review. We also support the committee’s recommendations for a full and detailed timetable setting out how and by when those recommendations will be implemented to ensure that disproportionality is reduced and remains so.

4 Youth Justice reform

Secure Schools 

While we welcome plans to develop secure schools, like many of our colleagues in the sector we have concerns about the delays to the setting up of the first secure school and the appropriateness of the Medway site – given it’s history.

In our own response to the inquiry, we submitted that we believed only Secure Children’s Homes (SCH)  were suitable to house children securely. Staffed by qualified social workers and experts on child care, SCHs have a higher ratio of staff to children, provide tailored support to those children, and are characterised by a child care rather than a custodial ethos. 

We welcome the Government’s ambition to have a secure estate that consists only of secure schools and SCHs. Both are smaller, have a high staff to children ratio and are built around the needs of children. That being said, we would appreciate, as would many in the sector, more clarity about how the schools will work and the provisions that will be put in place to ensure children receive effective and appropriate support.

Staffing issues

In our response, we highlighted our own experiences with prison staff who amidst cuts to funding are struggling with managing both the objectives of their role and the new cohort of young people they are having to work with. Many appear to be struggling with the effects of vicarious trauma and compassion fatigue as a result.

While we welcome the improved level of training being provided for prison staff, to tackle the high turnover, we would also recommend the roll-out of reflective practice for all staff to enable them to avoid the costly impact of compassion fatigue, toxic stress and vicarious trauma.

5 Reoffending

The report includes evidence of children being referred to interventions “without enough consideration being given to whether they would benefit from or engage with them.” In our own response we questioned  the suitability of certain interventions for young people with complex needs. 

Without building their social and emotional skills, children who have sustained trauma or adversity will struggle to engage with many forms of educational provision. As such we welcome the call for clearer commitments on the education, training and other meaningful activity being provided to children and young people in custody with the intention of aiding their transition back into wider society.

Conclusion

This report highlights the hard work being done across the system to support children, and provides a clear picture of the landscape of the children’s secure estate. It also recognises that many of the practices used in the secure estate are unsuitable for the children it holds.

We welcome the committee’s report in whole and believe it’s recommendations have the potential to help create a secure estate that better pursues its objective to reduce reoffending.

If you  are interested in reading about what a criminal justice system that effectively achieves its aims looks like, read our new book, ‘Humane Justice: What role do kindness, hope and compassion play in the criminal justice system?’ here