Response to the consultation on the plans for Secure College Rules
The National Association for Youth Justice is a membership organization that campaigns for the rights of and justice for children in trouble with the law.
The NAYJ does not believe that Secure Colleges are the solution to the high re-offending rates of children in custody. The binary measure of reconviction used by Government has remained generally constant for over a decade. Given the welcome decrease in the number of children entering the system, and subsequently of those going into custody, it is unsurprising that we are left with a group of children with multiple problems and vulnerabilities who are frequently entrenched in their offending behavior patterns.
To expect any custodial institution, however good the education provision may be, to address this within the average 80 day sentence is unrealistic. NAYJ recognises absolutely the importance of education in helping children to change and progress. But given that currently we have no idea of either the content or quality of educational provision likely to be in place in a Secure College, it may be better to look at what evidence there is about educating troubled children. We would draw attention to a recent report by the Secure Accommodation Network (SAN) which shows that educational outcomes for children placed in SCHs are not only better than those achieved by other forms of custodial institution but also exceed those for children educated in PRUs and similar alternative education provision. We would also point to evidence from other institutions that achieve better educational outcomes such as the Ian Mikardo School in East London. This school takes children with a long history of behavioural problems, many of whom are in the criminal justice system. The school does not use punishments or physical force yet has been graded as ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted for the last three years; 97% of the children go into further education, training or employment and none has received a custodial sentence in the last 7 years.
The Government has expressed concern about Secure Colleges being described as ‘child prisons’. However, it is difficult to see how the College differs from a traditional YOI. The proposed buildings are remarkably similar to previous plans for a YOI to be built on the same site and the proposed regime bears all the hallmarks of a traditional YOI approach.
We note with particular concern that the draft Secure College Rules provide for the use of adjudications and permit the use of force for ‘Good Order and Discipline’. Such an approach is entirely inconsistent with the College’s educational aims. Moreover, the recent update report from the Independent Restraint Advisory Board expresses serious concerns about the risk to children from some of the techniques allowed under the draft Rules. The NAYJ regards it as wholly unacceptable that force should be used other than to prevent harm. Recent legal opinion sought by the Children’s Rights Alliance for England (CRAE) casts serious doubt on the legality of such use of force which it also says is not permissible under the European Convention on Human Rights.
It is a fact that any intensive services likely to have a real impact on the outcomes for troubled children – mental health, residential and foster care or therapeutic interventions – are costly, and the UK is not an outlier when comparing the cost of such services with other industrialised countries.
At a time of constrained finances for everyone, we would contend that funding the construction of a new custodial facility for children would be an expensive experiment with no evidence that the outcomes will be improved – indeed all the evidence suggests that placing children in large establishments, miles away from their home community will not work.
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1. ‘Achieving outcomes and value for money’ Secure Accommodation Network 2014 http://www.securechildrenshomes.org.uk/news-2/
2. IRAP report into the implementation of MMPR. Ministry of Justice. October 2014 https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/independent-restraint-advisory-panel-reports-on-mmpr
3. Briefing on the lawfulness of the use of force provisions in the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill. Children’s Rights Alliance for England. 2014 http://www.crae.org.uk/media/74116/Briefing-on-CRAE-Legal-Advice.pdf