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Action urged to ensure children in custody are safe

After chief inspector of prisons said no establishment is safe to hold children, LGA urges government to publish action plan

Published on 10th October 2017

The government is being urged to publish a clear action plan to improve conditions in youth custody.

The Local Government Association, which represents more than 370 councils in England and Wales, is calling on the government to publish a plan to improve conditions in youth custody, after evidence emerged that institutions are dangerously unsafe for young people.

Not a single establishment inspected in England and Wales was safe to hold children and young people, a damning report from the HM Inspector of Prisons found earlier this year. The Chief Inspector described the speed of decline as “staggering” and issued the shocking warning that current conditions made a future tragedy “inevitable”.

In just five years, the number of children and young people self-harming had more than doubled, with self-harm rates running at 8.9 incidents per 100 children compared with 4.1 in 2011. Assault rates were 18.9 per 100 children, compared with 9.7 in 2011.

Councils have a statutory duty to ensure all children and young people in their area are safe, but their powers are limited when children and young people enter custody. Responsibility for youth offending institutions transferred from the Youth Justice Board to a new Youth Custody Service, based with Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS), on 1 September.

Whilst the government has acknowledged that the safety and wellbeing of these young people is a priority, there are still no clear plans outlining how establishments will be made safe for children in future. Now that HMPPS has taken on the important task of protecting our young people in custody, councils need to be assured that the responsibility is fulfilled.

Cllr Richard Watts, Chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said: “Councils take their responsibility toward child safety extremely seriously, and work hard to ensure that children and young people are never put in situations that would put them at risk.

“There is no other situation in which children and young people would be placed into environments that are known to be unsafe, and youth custody should be no exception.

“Any local authority found to be running institutions where tragedy is “inevitable”, to use the Chief Inspector’s recent description of the secure estate, would quite rightly be under intense pressure and would at the very least be required to produce a plan with clear timescales for action to ensure that improvements are made quickly and children are kept safe.

“Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service were made aware of these issues in July, yet we still have no clear idea of what action will be taken, and by when, to rectify the situation and make sure our young people are safe in custody. With inspectors also noting that the majority of previous recommendations relating to safety, respect, activity and resettlement had not been implemented, we can have little confidence that this latest report will be any different without a clear action plan in place.

“This situation would not be acceptable for local authorities, schools or any other public institution charged with the care of children, and it should not be acceptable for HMPPS. Action needs to be taken to ensure that young people are safe in custody.”

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