More than half of boys held in young offender institutions in 2017-18 were from a black or minority ethnic background (BME), a watchdog report has indicated.
The percentage of BME detainees was the highest recorded since HM Inspectorate of Prisons began carrying out the analysis in 2001.
The figure of 51 per cent was three percentage points up on the previous year’s 48 per cent.
Only two years ago a landmark review by Labour MP for Tottenham David Lammy raised concerns that the proportion of black, Asian and minority ethnic youth prisoners had increased despite an overall fall in under-18s in custody.
Commenting on the latest findings, Mr Lammy said: ‘This is deeply alarming and now must be viewed as an urgent national crisis.
‘We are not only failing to make progress to address these racial inequalities; things are getting significantly worse.
‘From childhood right through to courts and adult prisons, our justice system entrenches and exacerbates the divides in our society.’
The findings show an increase over the previous year and a dramatic jump over the last decade
Researchers found the proportion of boys who identified as being from a black or minority ethnic background varied significantly from facility to facility.
At the Keppel Unit – Her Majesty’s Young Offenders Institute (YOI) Wetherby, a male juvenile prison outside York – it was one-in-five (21 per cent).
At HMP Feltham, a male juvenile jail in Hounslow in west London, in was nearly three-quarters (71 per cent).
The figures are detailed in a study of perceptions of those between 12 and 18 who were held in YOIs or secure training centres (STCs) in England and Wales from April 2017 to March 2018.
The assessment, published today, covers the experiences of boys in five male YOIs, plus a specialist unit for boys; and children, including a small number of girls, held in three STCs.
Black and minority ethnic children accounted for 42 per cent of the STC population, according to the paper. The percentage identifying as being from a BME background also varied between STCs, from 33 per cent at Oakhill in Milton Keynes, to 55 per cent at Medway in Rochester.
David Lammy MP, a campaigner on this issue, called the findings ‘deeply alarming’ saying they must be viewed as ‘an urgent national crisis’
Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: ‘For the first time, more than half of boys in prison identify as being from a black or minority ethnic background.
‘Sixteen months after the Lammy Review was published, it is disturbing that disproportionality it is growing.’
In other findings:
- More than half of children (56 per cent) in STCs [and 50 per cent in YOIs] reported they had been physically restrained in their establishment.
- Three in 10 STC respondents had been ‘victimised’ by other children by being shouted at through windows.
- Children in STCs were more likely to report that staff treated them with respect (87 per cent compared with 64 per cent in YOIs)
Between 2013-14 and 2017-18, the number of children, including 18-year-olds, held in YOIs, STCs and secure children’s homes fell by 24 per cent from 1,318 to 997, the report found.
The watchdog warned that too many youngsters feel unsafe while in custody.
It found that signs of improvement have yet to translate into a significant shift in children’s perceptions of their treatment and conditions.
Three options for young offenders
There are three types of secure accommodation in which a young person can be placed:
Young Offender Institutions
YOI’s are facilities run by both the Prison Service and the private sector and accommodate 15- to 17-year-olds. Young people serving Detention and Training Orders can be accommodated beyond the age of 17 subject to child protection considerations. The majority of YOI’s accommodate boys, although there are four dedicated female units
Secure Training Centres
STC’s are purpose-built centres for young offenders up to the age of 17. STC’s can accommodate both male and female young people who are held separately. They are run by private operators under contracts, which set out detailed operational requirements. There are four STC’s in England;
Secure Children’s Homes
SCH’s accommodate children and young people placed there on a secure welfare order for the protection of themselves or others, and for those placed under criminal justice legislation. SCH’s are generally used to accommodate young offenders aged 12 to 14, girls up to the age of 16, and boys 15-16 assessed as vulnerable.
Source: Lancashire Safeguarding Children’s Board
HMIP’s analysis, based on a survey of 686 children detained in 2017-18, found just over a third (34 per cent) of those held in STCs reported feeling unsafe at some point since arriving at the centre.
Forty per cent of those in YOIs had felt unsafe during their time there.
Chief Inspector of Prisons Peter Clarke said: ‘I trust that the details of this report will prove useful to those whose responsibility it is to provide safe, respectful and purposeful custody for children.
‘As we all know, the perceptions of children in custody, will, for them, be the reality of what is happening.
‘That is why we should not allow the recent improvement in inspection findings to give rise to complacency.’
A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: ‘We are fundamentally reforming youth custody to make it safer and more focused on rehabilitation and, as the Chief Inspector recognises, there have been encouraging signs of improvement in safety.
‘As part of our reforms, we are increasing frontline staff in public-sector YOIs by 20%, improving training for officers working with young people, and have recently announced a £5 million investment in a new secure school at Medway.
‘But we recognise there is still more to do, including tackling disproportionality in the justice system, and a dedicated team is addressing this issue head-on.’