Children in prison in England & Wales – chief inspector reports

Young people suffer assault, restraint and solitary confinement 

HMIP child in prison

Source: HMIP


Children in prison in England & Wales are experiencing high levels of assault, restraint and solitary confinement according to the latest annual report from the Chief Inspector.

But education and living conditions are improving. Here are the main findings from the report.


How many children are in prison and who are they?  

The number of children in prison in England & Wales – including some 18-year-olds – has halved between 2010-11 and 2014-15. The population has fallen by 13 per cent since 2013–14 to 1,144 in 2014-15.

The number of boys held in Young Offender Institutions (YOI) fell from 858 in March 2014 to 792 in March 2015. At the same time, only 38 of the children held were girls. The remainder of children were held in Secure Training Colleges. 

Here are other key facts about young prisoners:

  • First time in custody: 56%  
  • Been in local authority care: 38%
  • Have a disability: 15%
  • Black or minority ethnic group: 45% 
  • Foreign nationals: 5% 
  • Muslim: 23% 
  • 18 years old: 12% 
  • Had children of their own: 10%


Many children experience high levels of violence in prison 

The Chief Inspector reported that levels of violence at YOIs remain high, especially at Feltham and Cookham Wood. Many assaults involved multiple assailants and a single victim in a gang-related attack.

Nearly a third of boys told the prison inspectors that they had felt unsafe in prison at some point. One-tenth said they felt unsafe at the time of the inspection. 

At Feltham, there had been 262 fights and assaults in the six months before the inspection, including 79 assaults on staff.

Cookham Wood had recorded 169 acts of violence during the six months before the inspection, including 66 fights between boys – there were about 15 assaults a month between children compared with nine at the previous inspection.

Here are the overall results for all five YOIs inspected.

HMIP report on Young Offender Institutions


On a happier note, care for boys at risk of suicide or self-harm had improved since three self-inflicted deaths in 2012. There were no self-inflicted deaths in the juvenile estate during this year. 


Time out of cell is limited for many children  

Due to high levels of violence and staff shortages, many prisons resorted to “restricted regimes” – effectively locking young people in solitary confinement. This reduces access to education and training as well as having mental health ramifications.

At Cookham Wood, 28 per cent of the mainstream population were on some form of regime restriction. At Feltham over one-quarter of boys were under a restricted regime. 

Only Parc achieved the Chief Inspector’s expectation that children should be unlocked and out of their cell for 10 hours a day, and even there this was only achieved on weekdays. 

A related issue is segregation. One boy was held for 133 days in segregation at Cookham Wood. Over a quarter of boys reported having spent a night in a segregation unit, where conditions remained mostly poor. 

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Chief Inspector’s three other main criticisms  

Many boys had major problems in finding suitable accommodation on release with obvious implications for their reoffending. At Werrington, one-fifth of children were released to non-sustainable accommodation. 

In a few cases, boys were placed into hostel or bed and breakfast accommodation, which we have previously described as ‘to give them a pretty certain return ticket’ – HMIP report 

Almost two-thirds of boys said it was not easy for their family and friends to visit them. They also had long journeys for court appearances that might only last a few minutes.

Finally, the use of restraint had increased at Werrington, Cookham Wood and Feltham and reduced at Parc and Hindley. At Cookham Wood, the relevant documentation had not been submitted for 49 incidents in the two months before our inspection. 

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To end on a brighter note… 

The Chief Inspector reported that when boys did get to education and training, it was good in most establishments. Many child prisoners have had little or poor education before they are jailed, but education regulators Ofsted (England) and Estyn (Wales) consistently reported on boys in prison making progress.

Against this background, the Chief Inspector said he saw no need for a children’s “super-prison” – a secure college holding up to 320 young people the government is considering building. The report said “it is not clear to what question a secure college is the answer.” 

Finally, the previously poor living conditions had been improved at Feltham and Werrington, and newly opened accommodation at Cookham Wood was excellent.

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