Call for urgent action to tackle causes of violence leading to youth incarceration

Calls have been made for urgent action to tackle the causes of violent behaviour resulting in “more and more” people being sent to young offender institutions.

The Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) at HM YOI Wetherby made the plea to the Government in its 2018/19 report on the establishment.

The young offender institution in West Yorkshire holds around 240 “extremely challenging young people” aged between 15 and 18.

Some 52% of those sentenced and held on remand at Wetherby are charged with violent offences, and 12% with sex crimes.

Catherine Porter, chairman of the IMB, said: “Over the last few years we have observed many much-needed improvements put in place, whilst also dealing with significantly more complex young people.

“Most young people report to the board that they find Wetherby to be better than they expected.

“That said, many of the concerns that we raise this year and in our previous annual reports remain the same.

“They are not the responsibility of the Governor but of the minister for prisons Lucy Frazer and the Prison Service and urgent action is required.”

The report addressed its concerns to the prisons minister, and said: “Last year we asked, ‘What is being done nationally to reduce the levels of violence amongst children and young people?’

“This year, as we see no evidence of any improvement and in fact the number of violent crimes has increased, we ask the same question: What, if anything, is being done nationally to reduce the levels of violence amongst children and young people?”

It also called for answers on what is being done to reduce the time taken to fill vacancies, adding: “Delays in the recruitment process for staff, particularly in education and health care, seriously compromise the establishment’s effectiveness.”

It also asked the prison service to review concerns it raised about a lack of secure hospital beds for young offenders with complex mental health problems, and asked it to consider whether a young offender institution was a suitable place for them.

The board raised concerns over frequent “assaults resulting in significant injury to staff or prisoners and requiring hospital treatment” that “are not dealt with rigorously enough”, adding: “The board believes that not only is this demoralising for the victim of such an assault, but it does not act as sufficient deterrent to potential perpetrators.”

IMBs are made up of volunteers appointed by justice ministers to scrutinise prison conditions.

A special unit will soon open at Wetherby for prisoners with mental health problems and more staff have been hired to run it, the Government said.

A spokesman added: “As this report recognises, HMYOI Wetherby is a safe, well-run prison, which works to help its prisoners turn their lives around from the moment they start their sentences.

“The Government is investing more than £220 million into early intervention projects to stop young people from committing crime in the first place.”

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