Probation service renationalised

Feltham attack shows young offender institutions need more resources

Dr Erin Sanders-McDonagh from SSPSSR notes that many institutions have experienced reduced funding and staff levels at a time when a rise in youth violence means more investment and staff to tackle this issue are needed.

‘Recent research suggests that some young people with violent offending histories are made worse after spending time in Youth Offending Institutions (YOIs) in the southeast of England.

‘Interviews I have conducted with over 100 young people with serious offending histories reveal that going into YOIs increases their level of risk, and in many cases, makes them more likely to reoffend. My research makes clear that YOIs are not safe places for young people – the lack of funding and resources for YOIs is part of this problem. Funding for the Youth Justice Board decreased by 40% from 2016/2017 to 2017/2018, leaving children and YOI staff at risk of violence.

‘In an interview with one young person who had been in Feltham YOI, he describes going in as a 15-year-old and being terrified. He was placed on a wing with someone from a rival gang and was scared that his life was in danger. The lack of YOI staff exacerbated this fear, and while he was quickly moved to a safer wing, the lack of officers on duty at any given time was highlighted by this young person as a real source of fear.

‘With the rise in knife crime in London, young people who are gang-involved or are seen to be affiliated with a particular area are particularly vulnerable to violence in these spaces. This places additional stress on a system that is already stretched due to lack of funding, making it more difficult for young people to access important educational, training, physical and mental health services they need to make positive changes to their lives.

YOI Officers are well-placed to work with young people, and many of the officers that I met on wing visits expressed care and concern for the young men in their charge. Adequate staffing levels are important for keeping the wards free from violence, and the recent outbreak of violence at Feltham is not about lack of effective punishment, but rather lack of funding to keep staffing levels at a safe level.

‘Tackling gang violence and serious youth offending demands that we can offer young people a safe space in a YOI, where they can be supported to make positive changes to their lives. YOI staff are fundamentally important in making this possible, and ensuring that these institutions are well resourced and well-staffed is part of making these changes happen.’

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