REPORT: 40% of youth in custody is black and minority ethnic; 6% is foreign.

Black and minority ethnic young men account for almost 40% of the population of youth jails in England and Wales, a new report by the chief inspector of prisons has revealed.

Their population rose to 39% from 33% in 2009-10.

The report “Children and Young People in Custody 2010-11: An analysis of the experiences of 15 to 18-year-olds in prison” published jointly with the Youth Justice Board, also reveals that the number of foreign national young men increased to 6% (from 4% in 2009-10).

The number of people identified as Muslim reached 16% (compared with 13% in 2009-10).

Generally the number of children and young people in custody continued to fall during 2010-11 from 1,977 to 1,822.

Over half of young men (53%, an increase from 39% in 2009-10) and 48% of young women said it was their first time in custody. This is the group more likely to report feeling unsafe.

Almost a quarter of young women and 13% of young men had children of their own.

A striking finding of the report is that a fifth of young men and 38% of young women reported emotional or mental health problems.

Compared with 2009-10, young men were less positive about their treatment in reception and the facilities offered on arrival, and fewer said that they felt safe on their first night.

Although the proportion of young men who said they had ever felt unsafe had fallen, fewer felt that they could tell someone if they were being victimised or believed a member of staff would take it seriously.

While getting a job was cited by young men (and by 52% of young women) as most likely to stop them offending, fewer than half said they knew who to contact in the establishment for help with finding employment.

When asked if they had done something during their time in custody that would make them less likely to offend in future, only half of all sentenced young people answered positively, despite 92% of young men and 93% of young women indicating they would like to stop offending.

However the amount of time spent out of cell had generally improved and more young men said they had daily association.

“This report has highlighted some deterioration in children and young people’s experience of custody,” Nick Hardwick, Chief Inspector of Prisons, said. “Despite the falling numbers, this population has well-defined vulnerability and increasing numbers within minority groups. The need, therefore, to provide these young people with support during their time in custody and in preparation for release is as greater as ever.”

Frances Done, Chair of the Youth Justice Board, said: "We are very concerned that in some areas young people's experience of custody has deteriorated although in some it has improved. We will be looking closely at the experiences reported by young people and working with all secure establishments to make sure that young people’s time in custody has positive results and that everyone working in youth justice is focused on rehabilitating young people to help them achieve a more purposeful life.”

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