More black men in youth prisons

Owers: More plan to continue education on release

15 December 2009: Black and minority ethnic young people are over-represented in youth prisons, a new report has revealed. The “Children and Young People in Custody 2008–2009” published jointly by the prisons inspectorate and the Youth Justice Board (YJB), shows that more than a third (36 per cent) of 15 to 18-year old men held in youth custody in England and Wales are from black or other ethnic minority groups.

In a forward to the report, Dame Anne Owers, Chief Inspector of Prisons wrote: “Interestingly, the background of black and minority ethnic young men was better than their white counterparts – fewer had been in care, been excluded, or left school before the age of 14. More black and minority ethnic young men planned to continue education on release.”

In general, the report shows that a quarter of young men and nearly half of young women had been in care and almost nine out of ten young men and women had been excluded from school. 70% of young men said that they wanted to stop offending, but only about half that number thought that they had done anything in prison to make that more likely.

It also shows that perceptions of safety had improved for young men, though one in four still said they had felt unsafe at some time. Young men in dedicated juvenile sites were more positive about their experience in most areas. There were marked differences between establishments, for example in use of force and access to education.

Progress reported in the previous year’s survey seems to have slowed or reversed in some important areas, such as relationships with staff and the handling of complaints.

Ms. Owers further observed that “Black and minority ethnic young men (though not young women) continued to report worse experiences in key areas of prison life, particularly relationships with staff, and in answer to questions about resettlement. Worryingly, black young men were once again disproportionately likely to report having been restrained – a difference that had disappeared in the 2006–2008 surveys. Their expectations of life outside prison were correspondingly low: more expected to carry on offending, and fewer thought that prison had made that less likely.”

Ms. Owers said the past surveys and the latest report showed the importance of continuing “to invest in these children and young people before they reach the criminal justice system, and to provide them with the support they need afterwards.”

Ms. Frances Done, chair of the YJB, said: “We commissioned these surveys to ensure that we gather the first-hand experiences of young people in custody. They show that young people feel safer than ever before. This demonstrates the value of the substantial investment and efforts we have made to accommodation, standards of care, safeguarding arrangements and independent advocacy services.

“The YJB has not stalled in working to improve the lives for children and young people in custody. While significant achievements have been made much still remains to be done.

“We are still determined to ensure that children and young people are cared for in secure accommodation where they are kept safe and healthy and are provided with effective education, training and recreational programmes.”

Stephen Ogongo, Afro News

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