New report finds highest rate since 2001
Nearly half of boys in young offender institutions are of a black or ethnic minority background, says a prisons watchdog, the highest rate in over a decade.
A new report out today finds 47 per cent of boys in these institutions for the year 2015/16 identify as black or minority ethnic, a level not reached since 2001.
The report, commissioned by the government’s Youth Justice Board, which looks at 12 to 18-year-olds in custody, also found 46 per cent reported feeling unsafe in custody at some point, while only 16 per cent had a job in their institution, down from 28 per cent the year before (2014/15).
As of April there were 906 under-18s in custody in England and Wales.
Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said:
“It is shameful that the government spends millions on locking up children yet they are unsafe inside and lack support before and after custody. The prisons are a disgrace and should be closed.
Part of the problem is that prisons are the end of a torrent and it is the courts that must look to their disproportionate use of custody for BAME (Black and minority ethnic) children.”
Colin Allars, chief executive of the Youth Justice Board, said:
“Parts of this report are uncomfortable to read – trends around safety are concerning.
We will use these findings to support our work with providers of custodial services to address the issues children and young people are telling us about.”
More than a third (37 per cent) of boys in these institutions have been through the local authority care system, while a fifth (22 per cent) were Muslim, 19 per cent had a disability and seven per cent were of a Gypsy, Romany or Traveller background.
The report said these groups ‘continued to be disproportionately over-represented’ compared to the general population.
Survey findings for secure training centres, another type of custodial facility for children, showed 41 per cent identify as black or ethnic minority.
Chief inspector of prisons Peter Clarke said:
“Over the past decade the number of children in custody has fallen by some 66 per cent, but the perceptions of those that remain leave us with some worrying and difficult issues to consider.
There are some particularly troubling findings in the areas of disproportionate over-representation (in terms of the characteristics of the children now being held in custody), safety, victimisation, respect and training.”
He added: ‘I hope these findings are taken seriously by those charged with developing and improving policy.’Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.