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Response to the CJINI inspection of Woodlands Juvenile Justice Centre

Responding to the publication of the Criminal Justice Inspection report into Woodlands Juvenile Justice Centre (JJC) Paula Rodgers, policy coordinator at Include Youth, said:

"Include Youth pushed hard for the detention of all children in adult facilities to come to an end and we still believe it is right and proper that no one under the age of 18 be detained in Hydebank Wood Young Offenders Centre. We welcome the fact that this has been the case since November 2012.

"The call to end the detention of children with adults has been made by the Youth Justice Review team, Prison Review team, UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and numerous children's rights organisations. It is widely acknowledged that adult custodial facilities are inappropriate for children.

"Evidence tells us that a regime grounded in a child centred welfare approach, rather than a punitive prison-based response, is more appropriate for dealing with children who come into the criminal justice system.

"This type of approach addresses offending behaviour and seeks to understand the reasons behind such behaviour. This child centred ethos sees those detained as children first and offenders second; children who deserve a second chance. Ultimately the aim is to integrate them back into their communities, schools or places of training and employment.

"We acknowledge that like many other government agencies, the Youth Justice Agency (YJA) is having to cope with budgetary constraints and increasing pressure to maintain that ethos and standard of care.

"We recognise the challenges the JJC have had in accommodating the resulting influx of 17 year olds. However it is paramount that the child centred regime, which the JJC is so applauded for nationally and internationally, is maintained despite the changing profile of young people detained there.

"We are concerned that inspectors have indicated that continuation of this child centred mode of working may be under threat due to recent changes. The YJA and the staff team within the JJC must be supported to continue the good work for which they have been widely praised.

"It has also been worrying that the JJC has had to resort to implementing restricted regimes in recent months. This use of restrictive regime cannot be allowed on a sustained basis – it impacts negatively on the children's access to education and programmes aimed at addressing their offending behaviour. The JJC must adapt to these new challenges.

"The appropriateness and importance of maintaining and protecting a child centred ethos is especially relevant when we look at the profile of the children currently detained in the JJC. These are deeply troubled and vulnerable children who have complex social, educational and health needs.

"More than one third are looked after children, over 40 per cent have statements of Special Educational Need, almost 80 per cent were substance misusers, 43 per cent known to Community Adolescent Mental Health Services.

"The dramatic increase in the incidents of self harm in the JJC are very concerning and the disproportionate number of girls self harming is cause for particular concern.

"We must continue to ask, is the JJC the right place for these children? And most importantly, is this form of detention working to reduce children's offending and address the causes of offending in the first place?

"It is concerning that detailed work to address offending behaviour is not being carried out consistently in the JJC according to the inspection report. The high numbers of children reoffending on release from custody suggest more focus needs to be put on outcomes.

"Include Youth has seen at first hand the difference access to employment, education and vocational training can make to a young person's life. It is especially important for those young people in the justice system. Securing a placement, finding a job and gaining qualifications are the first steps to making sure a young person is less likely to reoffend.

"The inspector has assessed the quality of educational provision in the JJC from being 'good' in the 2011 report, to just 'satisfactory' in 2015 and that there has been a 50 per cent reduction in the number of permanent teaching staff since 2011. It is deeply worrying that the Inspector concludes that there is now a view within the JJC and the YJA that it is no longer feasible for Woodlands to deliver education to the children detained there.

"The numbers of children detained in the JJC who have not been sentenced remain extremely high. The inspection notes that only nine per cent (60 children per year) of admissions relate to children being sent to the JJC on sentences. The majority of children held there are on PACE and remand.

"The increase in children admitted under PACE, trebling since 2011, is concerning. Given 50 per cent of children admitted under PACE were then released at their first court appearance, questions whether these children should ever have been sent to the JJC in the first place. Once again we question whether custody is being used as intended, as a last resort, or has the JJC become a holding centre for many children.

"Every effort must be made to ensure that only those children who absolutely need to be detained are sent to the JJC. Too many children are sent there because there is no suitable accommodation. We agree with the Inspector that the YJA and statutory partners must get together to address this issue as a matter of urgency. These calls have been made since the 2008 inspection.

"Include Youth works closely with the JJC and the YJA and we commend the progressive regime and ethos which has been so apparent over the years. In 2011, the Youth Justice Review team said that: 'In Woodlands, Northern Ireland not only has a cutting edge facility it should be proud of but a facility that in our view constitutes best practice internationally'. They were very impressed with the facilities, the regime, the training and professionalism of staff and the overarching social work ethos.

"We note that the inspector has said that the JJC should now be 'redesigned to ensure it meets the needs of the challenging population'. In doing so, Include Youth believes that every effort must be made to protect that child centred ethos and to support staff to continue to deliver it in its fullest capacity. To dilute the approach will be to the detriment of the children who are detained there and ultimately to the safety and future of the families and communities to which they belong."

Ends

Media Enquiries: For more information contact Sharon Whittaker, Communications Officer at Include Youth, on 028 9031 1007 or sharon@includeyouth.org