Children being 'set up to fail' on release from custody by authorities, watchdog finds

Half of teenage boys released from custody were being investigated by police within three months

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Correspondent
@lizziedearden
Tuesday 08 October 2019 07:51
YOI Feltham is one of five young offender institutions across England and Wales
YOI Feltham is one of five young offender institutions across England and Wales

Children jailed for criminal offences are being “set up to fail” by authorities who fail to give them the support they need to stop offending, a watchdog has found.

Half of the 12 to 17-year-old boys whose cases were examined by HM Inspectorates of Probation and Prisons, were being investigated by police again within three months of being released from young offender institutions.

In the same period, three had been recalled to custody, 10 were convicted of another crime, 10 had breached their licence conditions and six were missing.

Only 14 had stayed out of trouble, making them the “exception rather than the rule”.

Officials believe that the sample of 50 boys and young men tracked for the study were representative of the wider picture in England and Wales.

Justin Russell, HM Chief Inspector of Probation, said a key driver of reoffending was the failure to find boys suitable homes upon release.

“Poor accommodation is linked to poor outcomes,” he added. “If you don’t have a place to go to, you can’t sort out education or training, mental health or substance abuse treatment.”

Almost 60 per cent of boys in the sample had been in local authority care, but Mr Russell said stretched councils were not holding places in children’s homes during prison sentences.

“Local authorities at a time of austerity are reluctant to continue paying for a care home place and then they lapse and then they get put miles away from home,” he added.

It means that children being released from prison are often sent to homes far from home, which a recent parliamentary report found are themselves becoming magnets for criminals and grooming gangs.

Inspectors raised concerns about unregulated “supported living” accommodation for older teenagers, calling for the government to mount a “proper national accommodation strategy for young people in care”.

“This is not just in the individual’s interests,” Mr Russell said. “Their families, communities and society as a whole stand to gain from people living crime-free lives.”

One case study included a 16-year-old boy with post-traumatic stress disorder who had been in and out of council care before being jailed for 14 months.

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Supported accommodation could not be found in his home area, where he wanted to go to school and be near his family, and he was sent to a different region where he later went missing.

Peter Clarke, HM chief inspector of prisons, said planning for release was “too little, too late”, as officials concentrated on managing children’s behaviour while in custody.

The report also raised concern about a lack of rehabilitation efforts, with few children getting the help they needed from social care, half getting the substance misuse support they required and only one in five going into education or training on release.

“Many of these children and young people need help to find accommodation and to get into education, training or employment,” Mr Russell said. “Those with substance misuse and mental health issues also need seamless support in the community. If the right services are not in place, these often-vulnerable people are being set up to fail.”

When young offenders turn 18, inspectors found they fell over a “cliff-edge” of support when transferred to the adult probation service.

One example given was a boy who turned 18 while in custody for a sexual offence, and did not undertake any work to address his offending, then was sent back to his old address despite asking to be moved to a new area.

A month after release, he was arrested for a new sexual offence and was recalled to prison.

Mr Russell said the children jailed in England and Wales are getting older on average, and the offences concerned are more severe.

“There are fewer going in for theft of a motor vehicle or the sort of stuff young people used to be in there for,” he added. “They are much more likely to be in there for sex offences and violence.”

In 2017-2018, and the average sentence was 16.7 months and almost 80 per cent of children and young people in custody committed violent offences, robbery, burglary and sexual offences.

The Ministry of Justice said an internal review of preparations for release is ongoing, and officials were drawing up new policies for offenders transitioning from youth to adult custody.

“Strong resettlement support both inside and outside prison is a vital pillar of rehabilitation,” a spokesperson added. “We must improve standards so they are consistent and enable young offenders to move away from crime for good. That is why we are reviewing resettlement services at all young offenders institutions and are working closely with external agencies which provide accommodation, education, training and employment to improve support on release.”