Howard League blog · 3 Oct 2016
Distance from home for children in custody
Last week a report commissioned by the Youth Justice Board into distance from home for children in custody was published by HM Inspectorate of Prisons. It found that children held further away from home get fewer visits from families and professionals.
No link was found between distance from home and feelings of safety, but half the children surveyed felt unsafe in the prison or secure training centre. One in five children were recalled to custody after they had been released.
As the number of children in penal custody has reduced, so the number of institutions has also shrunk, meaning that children are being sent further away from their home area.
Looking only at distance, without considering the quality of contact with families and how the children feel about being within an institution does not get us anywhere sensible.
If boys were not sent to prison on remand unnecessarily, family relations would not be disrupted in the first place.
A key finding of the report was that children and staff said distance made it harder for family and carers to visit and maintain their relationships. The report said that each 25-mile interval that a child was held from home was associated with one less visit from a family member or friend.
But, if families could phone in to the child every day and the child could phone home it would mitigate some of the feeling of isolation. If family visits were relaxed and purposeful, instead of having to sit on fixed plastic chairs in a noisy hall surrounded by other families suffering the same indignity. If children were allowed home visits, released on temporary licences, to stay with families they might retain better relationships. If families were supported to maintain and enhance relations with their teenage boys, they might be better able to welcome them home again at the end of the sentence.
My final if: if boys were not sent to prison on remand unnecessarily, family relations would not be disrupted in the first place. The overwhelming majority of boys imprisoned on remand will not get a prison sentence, yet they spend weeks or even months rotting in a jail – miles from family and friends.
I know that if my child was in custody, I would want to phone them every day.
The Youth Justice Board has always been a little over-obsessed with distance from home; I think it is important but quality of and regularity of contact with family is what counts most.
I know that if my child was in custody, I would want to phone them every day. When I visited I would like to see where they were sleeping and what they were doing. I would want to talk to staff who were looking after them. I would want to have a say in the education and care they get. I would want to spend quality time with them. I would want to be assured that they could phone me whenever they want.
Research shows that supportive family is one of the very best hopes for successful resettlement after custody. Maintaining and enhancing those relationships, particularly if they have been challenged or are problematic, requires children to be close to home but distance is not the only test of closeness.