Transforming Youth Custody

by merioconnell on 25 September, 2014


It costs an average £100,000 per year to lock up a young person – with some placements costing up to £200,000. That’s more than 5 times the cost of sending someone to Eton. And yet 73% of young offenders who leave custody reoffend within 12 months. Something is not working and society is literally paying the price!

That’s why I want to spread the good news about the Government’s response to the Transforming Youth Custody paper presented to Parliament in January of this year. I am really excited by the plans to open the first Secure College by 2017 – where education and training will be at the heart of the rehabilitation process, rather than the patchy service it is at the moment.

I worked for a local Youth Offending Team for 5 years as their Education, Training and Employment Specialist and saw first hand the devastating effects that our uncoordinated approach to education and training during the custodial part of a sentence had on young people’s futures.

I worked with youngsters who had chaotic home lives, where attendance and good behaviour in schools wasn’t valued or supported. I saw families where young people would wake themselves and their siblings up in the mornings, trying to find clean uniform as they scrambled through yesterdays leftovers to find something to eat for breakfast. They’d take their younger siblings to school and then get to their own schools only to be given detentions for being late, that they wouldn’t attend because they needed to pick up their siblings from school.

Often these young people would have been up till the early hours, they were dealing with parental drug and alcohol abuse and witnessing violent and emotional outbursts within the family. When you are struggling to eat and stay safe on a day by day basis, worrying about your long term career prospects doesn’t feature highly on your list of priorities.

The vast majority of 15-17 year olds in Young Offender Institutions have been excluded from school at some point. Half of those in this age group are assessed as having the literacy levels to that expected of a 7 -11 year old, learning disabilities are more prevalent among young people in custody.

At the moment young people in custody are only entitled to 15 hours education a week – those who need the most support are getting the least. For many young people their first time in custody is a wakeup call. They are scared and are willing to change.

My greatest frustration as a YOT worker was that it was impossible to organise course work to be sent from schools to Young Offender Institutions. Schools were not set up or resourced to do this, sentences given by the Courts were often too short for YOI’s to deliver whole course.

Time spent in custody was time off of GCSE course work or learning that couldn’t be regained. They came out of custody less able to attend school than when they went in. It was a vicious circle that was almost impossible to break out of.

We need to act on that impulse to change, by using the time that they are a captive audience to help them progress their learning, so that when they have completed their sentences they are ready and willing to resume their education.

Education is key to taking control of our lives and circumstances. It is the route out of deprivation. By replacing existing YOI’s with Secure Colleges we can really drive up the skills these young people need to function in society. We must give them a vision of what their futures could be if they found a job they enjoyed and show them how to achieve it.

But we must recruit the very best teachers – the pay of teachers dealing with some of our most difficult learners needs to reflect the skills they need to do that job. There must be mental health professionals and therapeutic services available and accessible, so that teachers in Secure Colleges can focus on teaching.

It may all sound expensive, but if you look at the current costs and add on the long term costs to society of uneducated career criminals, this initial investment soon becomes cost effective. The Lib Dems are bringing forward the legislation needed to create Secure Colleges, we are at the forefront of long term planning for reducing reoffending rates. Society’s investment will be paid back with interest.

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