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Category: Young people

PRT comment: HMIP annual report on children’s experiences in custody

Commenting on HM Inspectorate of Prisons annual report on children’s experiences in custody, Peter Dawson, Director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

“This damning report describes conditions for imprisoned children that predate the pandemic. It shows a third of children not able to shower once a day. Most of these teenagers couldn’t even play sport once a week. More than two out of every five had been bullied. And in a system where over half come from an ethnic minority, the colour of your skin led to an even worse experience across almost every aspect of daily life inside.

But despite these shameful facts, the government has published a white paper which will reverse the steady decline in the number of children we imprison, and which accepts that its proposals will have a disproportionate impact on children of colour. Parliament should refuse to countenance such an appalling prospect.”

PRT comment: HM Inspectorate of Prisons’ thematic report on outcomes for young adult prisoners

Commenting on the findings of today’s (20 January) thematic report on outcomes for young adult prisoners by HM Inspectorate of Prisons, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust said:

“The government is in a complete muddle about how to deal with young people who commit serious crime. On the one hand, it is determined to sentence even more young people—disproportionately young black men—to ever longer periods in prison. But then it fails utterly to make provision which might do anything to allow them to escape the situation which their lack of maturity has created in the first place.

“This is what comes from an overcrowded, under-resourced prison system. Governments are quick to legislate for harsher punishments. But they then condemn these young people at a critical moment in their lives to a system which is dominated by the pressure of simply finding enough spaces for people to be locked up. Strategic planning for the prison estate and for what goes on inside it is repeatedly blown out of the water by political expedience.

“There is no excuse for the situation the Chief Inspector describes. Far from protecting the public through imprisonment, the government is storing up a worse problem for the future. Young and disproportionately black young people are being denied a fair chance of building a decent future and growing out of crime.”

PRT comment: Urgent notification at HMYOI Feltham A

Commenting on the urgent notification issued by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons at HMYOI Feltham A, Peter Dawson, Director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

“This distressing report stands in stark contrast both to previous evidence of some improvement at Feltham and to a very positive report issued only last week about a larger but otherwise similar Young Offender Institution in the north of England. This huge discrepancy in the quality of care demands the urgent attention of a new Justice Secretary, and the Chief Inspector is right to insist upon that. He helpfully points to the core issue – a need to address the causes of violence and escape the cycle of reacting endlessly to it.”

Photo credit: Andy Aitchison

Times letter opposing knife crime prevention orders

The Prison Reform Trust and the Standing Committee for Youth Justice, along with a coalition of organisations working with children and young people in the criminal justice system, have written a letter published in today’s Times opposing the government’s proposed knife crime prevention orders. A copy of the letter and a list of signatures is below.

Baroness Doreen Lawrence has also criticised the proposals, in an article in the Times which also highlights today’s letter.

The bill is being debated in the House of Lords today. The Prison Reform Trust and the Standing Committee for Youth Justice have published a briefing for Peers urging them to oppose the new orders and highlighting other key amendments.

Letter published in the Times (6 February 2019)

Sir, As organisations working with children and young people in the criminal justice system, we urge Parliamentarians to oppose the government’s flawed and disproportionate knife crime prevention orders. The proposed orders, which are due to be debated in the House of Lords today (Wednesday 6 February), are a back door to custody. If it is suspected, not certain, that they have carried a knife twice in two years, children as young as twelve can be given an order lasting up to two years. The order can stipulate where they go, when they have to be indoors and what they can look at and say on social media. Breaching that civil order could see them getting a prison sentence of up to two years.


The Government says it has listened, and got the message that prevention is what will help most. But there is no evidence that orders like these prevent harmful behaviour, or address the root causes of knife carrying. Children and young people carry knives for complex reasons, including fear for their own safety. Effective prevention means dealing with that complexity, and investing in organisations and programmes rooted in the communities that are suffering the most. Reaching yet again for the easy but ineffective punitive option lets down the very people the government says it wants to help.


Pippa Goodfellow, Director, Standing Committee for Youth Justice

Peter Dawson, Director, Prison Reform Trust

Helen Schofield, Acting Chief Executive, Probation Institute

Andy Peaden, Chair, Association of Youth Offending Team Managers

Frances Crook, Chief Executive, Howard League for Penal Reform

Jacob Tas, Chief Executive, Nacro

Tariq Desai, Lawyer Criminal Justice, Justice

Matt Hussey, Public Affairs Manager, The Children’s Society

Baillie Aaron, Founder and CEO, Spark Inside

Amira Asantewa, Director of Communities, Grit

Bob Ashford, Founder, Wipetheslateclean

Jonathan Black, Chair, London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association

Phil Bowen, Director, Centre for Justice Innovation

Nina Champion, Director, Criminal Justice Alliance

Rohati Chapman, Interim CEO, Khulisa

Caimin Collins, Chief Executive Officer, MAC-UK

Darren Coyne, Projects and Development Worker, The Care Leavers Association

Kathy Evans, Chief Executive, Children England

Jamie Gill, Partnership Director, 1625 Independent People

Anne-Marie Day, Researcher and Lecturer, University of Bedfordshire

Nicky Hill, Interim CEO, StreetDoctors

Ben Kernighan, Interim Chief Executive Officer, Leap Confronting Conflict

Ross Little, Chair, National Association for Youth Justice

Ian McCaul, Chief Executive Officer, Chiltern Way Academy Trust

Mary O’Shaughnessy, Consultant

Kate Paradine, CEO, Women in Prison

Enver Solomon, Chief Executive Officer, Just for Kids Law

Christopher Stacey, Co-director, Unlock

John Tenconi, Chair, Michael Sieff Foundation

George Turner, Manager, Carney’s Community Centre

Bill Waddington, Chair, Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association

Caroline Liggins, Associate, Hodge Jones & Allen Solicitors 

Andrea Coomber, Director, Justice

Offensive Weapons Bill—Second Reading

The House of Commons will begin to formally scrutinise the Offensive Weapons Bill this Wednesday (27 June) as it holds its second reading debate.

In preparation, the Prison Reform Trust has produced a short briefing for MPs, highlighting concerns about the proposals to introduce new and modified existing offences, as well as the expansion of mandatory sentences.

There is understandable public concern about the recent spate of acid attacks and rise in knife crime in some inner-city areas. But experience suggests that solutions are most likely to lie in better regulation and control of supply and increased investment in preventative measures, including early intervention, education, trauma-informed and public health responses.

Click here to download a copy of the briefing.

PRT comment: HMIP thematic report on incentivising and promoting good behaviour

Commenting on HM Inspectorate of Prisons report on incentivising and promoting good behaviour, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

“This is a very important report, and especially timely given the justice secretary’s desire to use incentives to make prisons better. The core messages are simple and well known. Relationships hold the key, and those can only be built when prisoners are out of their cells and staff have the time to get to know them. Consistent and fair application of clear standards is essential. Release on temporary licence is seen by prisoners as the biggest long term incentive, but is grossly underused. 

“All of this holds true for adults as well as children, and ministers could not ask for a clearer explanation of why the overburdened adult estate is not delivering a safe and decent way of life in so many prisons. The investment all prisons need is in the time and skills to build relationships. Realistically, that has to mean an end to too many people going to prison for too long.” 

PRT comment: HMIP report on HMYOI Aylesbury

Commenting on HM Inspectorate of Prisons report on HMYOI Aylesbury published today (Thursday 17 August), Mark Day, Head of Policy and Communications at the Prison Reform Trust, said:

“Young adults are among the most vulnerable, troubled individuals in custody, and yet this report into the Justice Secretary David Lidington’s local constituency prison shows that their needs are being neglected at every stage. It is particularly concerning that little progress has been made since the last inspection in 2015, and in some areas the prison has deteriorated further. The Justice Secretary this week committed to improving the accountability of prisons for responding to inspectorate recommendations. This cannot come soon enough, and must be matched by a commitment to ensure vulnerable young adults in the justice system get the distinct and tailored support they need.”

Justice committee report on young adults

Today (26 October) the House of Commons Justice Committee published its report on the treatment of young adults in the criminal justice system. The committee agreed that there is a strong case for a distinct approach to this group, one which takes account of levels of maturity and brain development at all stages of the criminal justice system, from arrest through to sentencing, community and custodial provision and resettlement.

The Prison Reform Trust is a member of the Transition to Adulthood (T2A) Alliance. You can read PRT’s submission to the committee’s inquiry by clicking here.

Commenting on the report, Alex Hewson, policy and communications officer at the Prison Reform Trust, said:

“A justice system which throws young people off a cliff edge on their 18th birthday, and expects them to fend for themselves in the adult system when they are still maturing and often vulnerable, is not one that is set up to deliver for offenders, victims or local communities. This report from the cross-party justice committee offers a clear endorsement of the importance of taking account of maturity at all stages of the criminal justice system and a comprehensive blueprint for reform.”

Harris Review debate on preventing deaths of young adults in custody

In July this year, the Harris Review published its report into self-inflicted deaths of 18–24 year olds  in custody. Ahead of the publication of the government’s response, the House of Lords will debate the review’s findings for the first time today (29 October).

The Prison Reform Trust has produced a briefing for peers and interested parties which can be downloaded by clicking here. The briefing highlights the need for early diversion into treatment and support; the importance of considering maturity, rather than age; the role of specialist training for staff working with young adults; and building on the successful reduction in youth custody numbers and crime over the last seven years.

You can watch the debate live on the Parliament website by clicking here, it should begin in the late afternoon on 29 October.

Keeping children in care out of trouble

Lord Laming chairs independent review into links between care and custody

An independent review of children in care, chaired by the crossbench peer Lord Laming and established by the Prison Reform Trust, is launched today to consider the reasons behind, and how best to tackle, the over representation of looked after children in the criminal justice system in England and Wales.

Following a number of requests, the deadline for written submissions to the care review has been extended until 5.00pm on Tuesday 25 August 2015. 

Children and young people with experience of care are significantly over represented in the criminal justice system. In a survey of 15-18 year olds in young offender institutions, a third of boys and 61% of girls said they had spent time in local authority care. This is despite fewer than 1% of all children in England being in care.

Looked after children aged between 10 and 17 years are more than five times as likely to be convicted or subject to a final warning or reprimand than other children.

For nearly two-thirds of looked after children, the main reason they are in care is that they have suffered abuse or neglect. Only two per cent are taken into care primarily because of their own socially unacceptable behaviour.

One girl with a criminal conviction said:

“I was moving round children’s homes, I was…pretty unsettled, I was starting school, then coming out of school, then home schooled, then finishing home school because I couldn’t stay in that placement.”

Another young person said:

“What I’ve heard from different police officers when I’ve been arrested, it’s like, ‘you’re a kid in care, you’re never [going to] get out of this way of life. You’re in care, kids in care are always on drugs, kids in care always make themselves unsafe, kids in care always self-harm’. So they sort of put a title on kids in care like they’re something bad.”

The review team is formed from a broad cross-section of senior policymakers and practitioners, including social workers, police, magistrates, academics and other experts. It will be informed by a consultation group of children and young people who have been in care and been in trouble with the law.

The consultation group will hold its first meeting, chaired by Lord Laming, this Thursday (25 June) at the House of Lords. Young people from the group will attend the first full review team meeting later the same day and will give evidence about their own experience of care and the criminal justice system to the review team.

The review team is calling for evidence from all those who have experience of the care system and the criminal justice system, including children and young people who have been in care and have been in trouble, their families and carers, social workers, youth offending team managers, police and local authority leads and others who work with children in care and children in trouble with the law.
Submissions may be sent by email to: or by post to: Care Review, C/o Prison Reform Trust, 15 Northburgh Street, London EC1V 0JR.  Telephone enquiries may be made to Katy Swaine Williams, Care Review Co-ordinator, on 020 7251 5070. The closing date for written evidence is Tuesday 25 August 2015.

For more information go

The review team will also invite oral submissions at its meetings, to be held six-weekly in central London, and will visit at least one young offender institution and other projects around England and Wales as part of the evidence gathering process. The review is expected to report early in 2016.

Commenting on the launch of the review, Lord Laming said:

“It is a huge step for the state to assume the parenting of a child or young person. With that comes the responsibility to provide stability, security and hope for the future. Fewer than 1% of children and young people are committed to the care of local authorities, yet a third of boys and 61% of girls in custody are, or have been in care. We cannot stand by and allow wasted opportunities to result in wasted later lives. We are determined to ensure this review makes practical recommendations to enable key services to work together to help children in care transform their life chances and stay out of trouble.”

Juliet Lyon, Director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

“There is a depressing route from care to custody which can, and must, be stopped. We need to listen to children in care about how they got drawn into trouble and hear their views on ways to get out of it.”