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In England and Wales children (those aged under 18) remanded to custody or sentenced to custody are placed in one of three types of institution:

  • a Young Offenders Institution (YOI)
  • a Secure Training Centre (STC)
  • a Secure Children’s Home (SCH)

How many children are in custody?

The number of children in custody has fallen considerably over the past decade and longer. According to the Ministry of Justice, in 2020/21, there were 560 under 18-year-olds in youth custody on average at the end of each month, compared with double that number in 2014/15 (1,037) and more than five time that number in 2008/09 (2,881).

The decline has not been spread evenly across all demographic groups, with the number of children and young people in custody who are White having reduced by 86% while the number who are from ethnic minority groups (which includes Black, Asian, Mixed and other minority ethnicities) fell by only 60%. As a result, these children and young people now make up 53% of the youth custody population. The number of girls in custody has also fallen slightly less than boys.

Where are children held?

In 2020/21, 73% of those in youth custody were placed in a YOI, 17% in an STC and 10% in a SCH. Two in five children and young people in custody were being held on remand, on average at the end of any given month in 2020/21. The remainder had been sentenced to custody.

HM Inspectorate of Prisons has issued urgent notifications for one YOI and two STCs. Urgent notifications are issued where the inspectorate has identified significant concerns about the treatment and conditions of those detained.

Concerns over safety, segregation and more

Concerns have been raised by HM Inspectorate of Prisons, the Justice Committee, the Joint Committee on Human Rights, the Children’s Commissioner, and organisations such as the Howard League for Penal Reform about the current provision of youth custody. These include:

  • a lack of safety
  • the use of restraint and force including the use of pain inducing techniques
  • the segregation of children away from others
  • a lack of purposeful activity and time out of cells
  • the disproportionate number of children from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic backgrounds in custody
  • the distance away from the child’s home
  • the use of remand
  • provision for girls

Plans for secure schools

The Government initiated a review of youth justice in 2016. It was conducted by Charlie Taylor, a government advisor at the time, and included proposals for the reform of youth custody by introducing ‘secure schools’. These would be smaller custodial establishments of up to 60-70 places, set up within schools legislation, and governed and inspected as schools.

The Government accepted this proposal and began developing the first secure school on the site of the former Medway STC in 2018. Interested groups have raised concerns about the model of secure schools and about the use of the Medway site. The opening of Medway has been subject to delay.

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