Secure training centres and secure schools – Report Summary

This is a House of Commons Committee report, with recommendations to government. The Government has two months to respond.

Author: Committee of Public Accounts

Related inquiry: Secure training centres and secure schools

Date Published: 15 July 2022

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Youth custody provision is failing children. Our inquiry has shown that The Ministry of Justice (the Ministry) and Her Majesty’s Prison & Probation Service (HMPPS) have not fixed poor provision at secure training centres (STC), where vulnerable children have been persistently held in unsafe conditions. The closure of all but one STC has led to children being sent to alternative places that are less suitable for their needs. While the number of children is custody is relatively low—560 on average in 2020–21—the Committee is concerned that these children are receiving substandard care. Their needs are diverse, and many are highly vulnerable, particularly girls. Suitable provision is needed to help them to get their lives back on track.

Following a long-term decline in the number of children in custody, the Ministry and HMPPS now expect this number to more than double by 2024. Meanwhile, HMPPS faces significant delays and cost increases in progressing the first of a new type of custody, a secure school. It now intends the first secure school to be a ‘pathfinder’, and it does not plan to launch the second secure school until it has evaluated the first. We are unconvinced of the Ministry’s and HMPPS’s commitment to delivering the secure school vision of small, local, educationally focused establishments. The first secure school may not open until February 2024—more than seven years after the Ministry accepted the Taylor review’s vision for secure schools—and plans for the second have not been made.

Meanwhile, the Ministry and HMPPS have an estate that is totally unsuited to meeting the complex needs of children in custody. The recent MacAlister review of children’s social care described Youth Offender Institutions (YOIs) and STCs as “wholly unsuitable” for accommodating children in the criminal justice system. The Ministry is reviewing its position on the remaining STC, Oakhill, and is also considering reopening another, while progressing a first secure school and seeking to improve YOIs. The Ministry and HMPPS urgently need a clear and convincing plan for youth custody options that can meet children’s diverse and complex needs and help them escape a vicious cycle of reoffending. They say that their vision is to be more outcomes-led and to focus on early intervention, but we are concerned by the absence of a clear strategy for evaluating what works and for ensuring appropriate placements are available for children in custody.