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8 Aug 2019

Howard League responds to thematic inspection report on resettlement of children in custody

The Howard League for Penal Reform has responded to a thematic inspection report on the resettlement of children released from prison, published jointly by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation today (Thursday 8 August).

Inspectors found that, in too many cases, children released from prison do not have suitable accommodation lined up in time for them to receive the support they need. Most have no training, education or employment arranged, and mental health support is often lacking.

The Howard League legal team runs a free and confidential legal advice line for children and young people in custody. In the last 12 months, the charity has received about 100 inquiries about children and young people with nowhere suitable to go on release.

All children under 18 who have nowhere to live are entitled to accommodation support from their home local authority’s social services team. Yet many children have no idea where they will live even days before release.

Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “The inspectors’ findings are in line with what the Howard League sees through its legal work time and again – children are being let down and set up to fail.

“Children in custody need more than ‘accommodation’; they need a home. We have worked with children to find out what home means to them, and they told us that it meant much more than just a roof over their head; it meant love, happiness, caring, safety, food and drink, warmth and comfort. Rushed resettlement makes children feel unloved and uncared for.

“Through its legal work, the Howard League has transformed law, policy and practice for children in the criminal justice system. But today’s report underlines the fact that there is still so much more to do.”

Too often, the Howard League legal team comes across children who could have been released earlier but have remained in custody for weeks, or sometimes even months, because they do not have a package of accommodation and support in place.

The charity also sees an increasing number of children who have serious mental health problems, which professionals believe require treatment in hospital, but have been remanded or sentenced to custody because there is no appropriate therapeutic alternative.

The rush for an address often means that a child’s education and health needs cannot be met on release because there just has not been time to plan. This means children of statutory school age are regularly released with no educational provision.

The opportunities for children to have any input into their release plan is often minimal even though custodial establishments have the ability to make effective use of release on temporary licence to visit placements in advance.

Children supported by the Howard League

The thematic inspection report highlights issues that are familiar to the Howard League through its support for children and young people in custody. Here are five of the cases that the charity’s legal team has dealt with:

A 16-year-old boy was given a short sentence. The court heard that his mental health problems required hospital treatment but no bed was available. The boy’s release date was known by all professionals involved from the point of sentence but even by day of release there was still no release plan. He was eventually released and placed in a hospital setting.

A young person in a children’s prison who was owed a duty of care by social services was approved for early release but could not return home. The Howard League was contacted just two days before his release because children’s services still had not found a suitable placement.

A teenage girl spent three weeks longer in custody than necessary because social services failed to arrange accommodation in time. She told the Howard League that during this period she was restrained by staff for not doing as she was told. After the Howard League made representations, the girl was provided with a placement in a residential care home. Her room was so small that she asked to be placed in a larger room when it became available, but the home refused. She was told her room was so small that they would have difficulty getting another local authority to agree to place another child there.

A 13-year-old boy in custody was only told the night before his release that the plan to return home had been changed by his home social services department and that he would be put in a residential care home, which was about a three-hour drive from his family.

A 17-year-old boy was remanded to custody even though his youth offending team worker was recommending a community sentence. He was a looked-after child but at the point of remand was living in a homeless shelter for adults. The Howard League argued that he was entitled to package of care and support, which was provided, allowing him to be given a community sentence.

Notes to editors

  1. The Howard League for Penal Reform is the oldest penal reform charity in the world. It is a national charity working for less crime, safer communities and fewer people in prison.
  2. The Howard League legal team identifies the problems and injustice faced by children and young people in the criminal justice system. It works to provide legal solutions for individuals, as well as wider policy changes to prevent the problems reoccurring for other young people. More information about the work of the legal team can be found on the Howard League website.
  3. Last year the Howard League worked with children in custody to find out their views of what home meant to them. More than a roof overhead can be read on the Howard League website.
  4. A copy of the thematic report will be available online from Thursday 8 August.  


Rob Preece
Campaigns and Communications Manager
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