Over half of male young offenders are from black or minority ethnic backgrounds for first time, report reveals

‘It is disturbing that disproportionality is growing’

Harry Cockburn
Tuesday 29 January 2019 01:04 GMT
Feltham Young Offenders Institute
Feltham Young Offenders Institute

The percentage of black or minority ethnic background (BME) detainees in the UK’s young offender institutions is the highest on record, accounting for more than half of all boys held, a watchdog report shows.

The figures have been recorded since the HM Inspectorate of Prisons began carrying out the analysis in 2001.

The BME figure increased to 51 per cent in 2017-18 from 48 per cent the previous year.

Researchers found that the proportion of boys who identified as being from a black or minority ethnic background varied depending on the establishment, from one in five (21 per cent) at the Keppel Unit in West Yorkshire, to nearly three quarters (71 per cent) at Feltham, in Hounslow, south-west London.

The figures are detailed in a study on the perceptions of those aged between 12 and 18 who were held in YOIs or secure training centres (STCs) in England and Wales from April 2017 to March 2018.

Overall, black and minority ethnic children accounted for 42 per cent of the STC population, according to the paper.

In 2017, a landmark review by Labour MP 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.

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.”

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, according to HMIP’s report.

The assessment, published on Tuesday, 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.

The watchdog warned too many youngsters feel unsafe while in custody, saying signs of improvement have yet to translate into a significant shift in children’s perceptions of their treatment and conditions.

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, while the figure was 40 per cent for YOIs.

The report also found:

  • More than half of children (56 per cent) in STCs and 50 per cent in YOIs reported that they had been physically restrained in their establishment.

  • Three in 10 STC respondents (30 per cent) 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).

Publishing the report, 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.

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“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.”

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Additional reporting by PA

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