Children in custody a long way from home get fewer visits, says Chief Inspector

Placing children in custody miles away from their home affected how many family visits they received, said Peter Clarke, Chief Inspector of Prisons. It didn’t, however, have a significant impact on other experiences of custody and could help some boys keep away from gang influence, he added. Today he published a report, The impact of distance from home on children in custody.

Over the past decade, the number of children in young offender institutions (YOIs) and secure training centres (STCs) has fallen by over two-thirds, from 2,467 in April 2005 to 802 in April 2016 (not including 106 18-year-olds in youth custody). There has been a similar reduction in the number of secure settings in which children can be detained. There are now five young offender institutions and three secure training centres. Inevitably, this has meant some children have been held further from home than might have been the case some years ago. For some children, going into custody will be the first time they have been away from the familial home. For others, it will be the latest in a series of placements in foster care and children’s homes.

HM Inspectorate of Prisons’ 2014 report on resettlement provision for adult prisoners highlighted the central importance of an offender’s family to their successful rehabilitation. Dame Sally Coates made a similar point in her recently published review of education in prisons. Human rights standards emphasise the importance of children in detention being able to communicate with the outside world and to receive visits.

Inspectors found that:

  • one child was 187 miles from home and had not received a family visit in four months following his transfer from a young offender institution closer to home;
  • children and staff said distance made it harder for family and carers to visit and maintain their relationships;
  • each 25-mile interval that a child was held from home was associated with one less visit from a family member or friend;
  • visits from community-based professionals involved in a child’s care reduced the further a child was placed from home;
  • each 26-mile interval that a child was held from home was associated with one fewer visit from a professional, which could impact on a child’s resettlement after release;
  • distance from home had no bearing on the likelihood of being recalled to custody after release;
  • nearly half of children had at some point felt unsafe in the YOI or STC, irrespective of the distance they were from home; and
  • some boys in YOIs detained close to home reported more gang problems when they first arrived at their YOI than those who were far from home.

However, given some of the distances involved, inspectors were pleased to find that distance from home did not significantly impact on the experiences of children in many areas of custodial life. Children themselves did not raise many concerns other than the impact on receiving visits from people they cared about. Inspectors did not find evidence of differential treatment of those children who were far from home and the involvement of youth offending teams in sentence planning and remand management reviews with children was unaffected by distance.

Peter Clarke said:

“It was reassuring to find that being placed in custody far from home was not a disadvantage to children in many respects. The negative impact on family ties and the implications this has for successful resettlement and turning children away from crime cannot, though, be ignored.”


Notes to editors:    

  1. Read the report.
  2. HM Inspectorate of Prisons is an independent inspectorate, inspecting places of detention to report on conditions and treatment, and promote positive outcomes for those detained and the public.
  3. This thematic review was commissioned by the Youth Justice Board.
  4. There are three types of secure establishment in England and Wales that hold children, secure training centres (STCs), young offender institutions (YOIs) and secure children’s homes (SCHs). There are three STCs: Medway (Kent), Oakhill (Milton Keynes) and Rainsbrook (Rugby), holding children aged 12 to 18. Under-18 YOIs hold boys aged 15 to 17 and some young adults who remain beyond their 18th birthday to complete their sentence. These are: HMYOI Feltham (West London), HMYOI Parc Young People’s Unit (South Wales), HMYOI Wetherby (West Yorkshire), HMYOI Werrington (Stoke) and HMYOI Cookham Wood (Kent). Secure children’s homes are run by local authorities or other providers and can hold children aged 10 to 17 on either criminal justice or welfare orders. There are 15 in England and Wales. This review is focused on children held in STCs and YOIs. HMI Prisons has no remit to inspection SCHs, which are inspected by Ofsted.
  5. Dame Sally Coates’s 2016 Unlocking Potential. A review of education in prisons can be found here.
  6. Please contact Jane Parsons in HM Inspectorate of Prisons press office on 020 3681 2775 or 07880 787452 if you would like more information.