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Delays to secure schools condemn vulnerable children to unsafe conditions, say MPs

15 July 2022

The Public Accounts Committee calls for action to protect vulnerable children who continue to be held in unsafe conditions as a result of failures by the Ministry of Justice and Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service to provide suitable provision.

The PAC’s report finds that the closure of secure training centres (STCs) and delays to opening new secure schools means many children receive “substandard care” with concerns that highly vulnerable girls are among those failed by custody provision.

MPs are “unconvinced” by the commitment of the Ministry and HMPPS to deliver the vision of the Taylor Review for smaller, local and educationally focused schools. Despite the Ministry having accepted the need for secure schools more than seven years ago, the first is unlikely to open before February 2024.

The report notes that the current estate operated by the Ministry and HMPPS is totally unsuited to meeting the complex needs of children in custody. This echoes the recent MacAlister review which found Youth Offender Institutions and STCs to be “wholly unsuitable” for accommodating children in the criminal justice system.

In April 2022, 432 children between 10 and 17-years old were held in custody in the UK. Children from ethnic minority backgrounds and those with mental health or learning disabilities were overrepresented. The number of children in custody is expected to more than double by 2024.

Chair's comments

Dame Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said:

“The government faces the double disaster of a growing number of children being held in custody while delays and spiralling costs jeopardise what were promised to be safe, secure facilities.

Secure schools were heralded as the solution for the youngest and most vulnerable in custody. It’s time for the Department to get a grip on the programme it announced its support for seven years ago.

We urge the government to understand the impact that custody has on children, particularly those held in unsafe conditions or those receiving substandard care.

It is clear that the government lacks a coherent strategy for youth custody which must have at its heart the need to reduce the number of children entering the criminal justice system and providing sufficient safeguards for those that do.”

Further information

Image: MoJ