Young People Face “Cliff Edge” After Leaving Custody

Practitioners from across the youth justice system say young people often face a worryingly precarious future after leaving institutions, due to the disconnect between care in custody and in the community.

Clare Taylor, former Policy and Research Officer at Prisoners’ Education Trust (PET), was one of several experts who gathered at the Making Space for Youth Justice workshop organised by the University of Birmingham.

Attendees agreed that despite many institutions working hard to offer a secure, rehabilitative environment, children often lacked sufficient support after release.

“The transition from custody to the community is far from seamless,” said Clare. “There is a lack of clarity over who is accountable for young people. Studies show that only around a third of young people have education, training or employment arrangements in place for their release. Even when a place is secured, inadequate data sharing can prevent young people from following through with their plans.”

Lin Hinnigan, Chief Executive of the Youth Justice Board (YJB) said creating a “joined-up approach” to the treatment of children before and after release was one of the YJB’s key focuses.

“What has stuck me when visiting prisons has been the cliff edge at the end of the sentence – the complete disconnect between what was going on in custody and what was going on in the community,” she said. “It’s too easy at the moment for communities to forget about kids who go into custody.”

Lin advocated for the creation of a “specialist dedicated workforce” of staff who were properly qualified to work with young people, and who would work with them both inside and outside institutions.

While the number of children in the secure estate has fallen dramatically in the last 10 years, those at the workshop said the remaining group was more ‘complex’ than ever.

Attendees, who included many of whom were staff at Secure Children’s Homes (SCH) and Secure Training Centres (STC), spoke of other difficulties they faced, including issues of staff recruitment and retention, and the often acute behavioural and psychological difficulties of children in custody.

These challenges, said Clare Taylor, means children in Young Offenders Institutes (YOIs) seldom receive the amount of compulsory education to which they are entitled.

“We know the recent changes to the education contracts - a shift to 30 hours a week of education - are not being achieved, despite the best efforts of the staff working in institutions,” she said.

In fact, in his ongoing review of the youth justice system, Charlie Taylor found that inmates in YOIs are only receiving on average only 17 hours of education per week.

Clare welcomed the interim recommendations of Charlie Taylor’s report, and this was echoed by others in the room. In particular, attendees supported his calls for greater devolution. They stressed that, in the words of one SCH headteacher, “small is beautiful” when it comes to creating institutions that are conducive to the education and wellbeing of children.

The workshop was organised by Kate Gooch, Peter Kraftl and Dominique Moran from the University of Birmingham’s law and geography schools. Other speakers included Sally Garratt from Novus and Aldine House Secure Children's Centre in Sheffield.

PET is currently undertaking a major research project into youth education in the justice system, designed to be seen alongside Charlie Taylor’s review of the system. In January PET held a one day academic symposium in partnership with London South Bank University focusing on effective learning for young people and young adults during custody and after release. More information can be found here.