Action is urgently needed to make sure young people detained in youth offending institutions and secure training centres such as Hindley Prison are safe, council leaders say.
The Local Government Association, which represents more than 370 councils including Wigan’s, is calling on the Government to publish a clear action plan to improve conditions in youth custody, following alarming evidence that institutions are dangerously unsafe.
In July, a damning report from the HM Inspector of Prisons found that not a single establishment inspected in England and Wales was safe to hold young people. In just five years, the number of young people self-harming had more than doubled.
Similarly, assault rates were 18.9 per 100 children, compared with 9.7 in 2011. The Chief Inspector described the speed of decline as “staggering” and issued the shocking warning that current conditions made a future tragedy “inevitable”.
Hindley these days has both an adult prison and young offenders’ institution running side by side.
Councils have a statutory duty to ensure all children and young people in their area are safe, but their powers are limited when children and young people enter custody. Responsibility for youth offending institutions transferred from the Youth Justice Board to a new Youth Custody Service, based with Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service, on September 1.
While the Government has acknowledged that the safety and wellbeing of these young people is a priority, the LGA says it has yet to see any clear plans outlining how establishments will be made safe for children in future. Now that HMPPS has taken on the important task of protecting our young people in custody, the association says councils need to be assured that the responsibility is fulfilled.
Coun Richard Watts, chairman of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said: “Councils take their responsibility toward child safety extremely seriously, and work hard to ensure that young people are never put in situations that would put them at risk.
“There is no other situation in which children and young people would be placed into environments that are known to be unsafe, and youth custody should be no exception.
“This situation would not be acceptable for local authorities, schools or any other public institution charged with the care of children, and it should not be acceptable for HMPPS. Action needs to be taken to ensure that young people are safe in custody.”