Child custody 'getting worse'
Children in custody have painted a bleak picture of the youth prison estate after an annual inspection revealed a "deterioration" in the vast majority of responses to a far-reaching survey.
Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Prisons said 39 questions in the 2013-14 survey of children in youth offender institutions (YOIs) revealed a deterioration in responses compared with the previous year. There were just five questions where the 2013-14 responses showed an improvement.
A higher proportion of boys said they had been physically restrained - 38% in 2013/14 compared with 30% in 2012-13.
Elsewhere, a smaller proportion of boys said they were offered help on arrival with feeling scared, contacting family or money worries.
Improvements included a higher proportion of boys reporting that they could shower, use the telephone and go outside for exercise each day.
Chief inspector of prisons Nick Hardwick said: " These are self-reported perceptions and experiences and as such cannot answer on their own how safe, respectful and purposeful the youth custody estate and individual establishments are.
"However, this unique insight into children's own perceptions of their experience of custody should be of importance to policy-makers, academics and all who have a concern about the treatment and conditions of children in custody.
"What children tell us about themselves and their time in custody should be listened to and used, both to prompt further exploration of the questions raised by their responses and to help shape the major changes to the youth custody estate that are now planned."
The Government has set out plans to replace secure training centres (STCs) and YOIs with a fewer number of larger secure colleges to hold the majority of children in custody.
Ministers want to improve the standard of academic and vocational training provided to children in custody.
Over the past five years, the number of children in custody has dropped, resulting in the closure of several YOIs.
The report found that 41% of boys said they were from a black or minority ethnic background, compared with 43% the previous year.
Lin Hinnigan, chief executive of the Youth Justice Board, which oversees the youth justice system in England and Wales, said: " We carefully consider the opinions expressed by those currently in the youth secure estate, together with other sources of information and data.
"This helps us to improve the standards we set for our service providers and can also help inform policy-making across the youth justice system."
Justice Minister Andrew Selous said: " Crime is falling and fewer young people are entering the criminal justice system.
"But those who do are some of the most vulnerable people in our society and we're committed to making sure they are given the skills, training and support to get their lives back on track.
"That's why we're introducing Secure Colleges, a pioneering approach to youth custody that brings together a package of education, healthcare and support. We're also doubling the amount of education in Young Offender Institutions, helping young people turn their backs on crime for good.
"We will consider the report as part of our work to drive improvements in the youth estate."