Youth custody centres are meant to be a safe holding for young offenders, however, a startling 2017 report found that all the observed centres in England and Wales were deemed unsafe. Peter Clark, the former Met Police head of Counter-terrorism compiled this report and came forth with concerning observations.  In what Clark called a “cycle of violence”, has led to the declining safety in youth custody centres.

From 2010 to 2016, cases of both self-harm and assault have doubled in youth offender centres. In lieu of the Medway youth jail child neglect scandal of last year; the question of safety for vulnerable young offenders was brought into the spotlight. In 2017, about 770 children under 18 years old were in young offender institutions or secure training centres. During Peter Clark’s walkthroughs of youth custody centres, he found the conditions these children suffered.  The custody establishments often left boys in their cells for extended amounts of time without exercise and had them eat meals in isolation. The rapid decline in well-being at these institutions can also be measured from the youth offenders who responded to questions. 162 boys, a total of 41% of those who answered questions said that they felt unsafe in their establishment.  

Peter Clark attributes the declining standards to a perpetual cycle of violence that stems from both inmates actions and the custody centres strict disciplinary responses. Clark has implored the Ministry of Justice to intervene and improve safety standards. However, despite the Ministry of Justice reiterating that "The safety and welfare of every young person in custody are our absolute priority and we are clear that more needs to be done to achieve this”, not much has yet been done.

Conditions in youth custody centres can have a dramatic impact on youth offenders’ later life. With improved safety standards, education and training will also be able to be given to help the detained youth not fall behind academically and help prevent reoffending.  Hope for change lies in the Ministry of Justice’s creation of a new youth custody service with an executive director. The direction plans to add 20% of front-line staff who will be specially trained to work in youth custody institutions.

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