25/Jul/2014 - Last News Update: 08:54

Tackling violence in Europe's largest youth prison

Category: England

Published: 12th Jun 2012 11:52:34

Hindley unit inmate: 'You get an Xbox if you behave'

Young people in custody are almost 10 times more likely than adults to get involved in a fight or serious assault behind bars. Newsnight has had exclusive access to a specialist unit built to deal with the most violent and disruptive offenders inside Europe's largest youth prison, Hindley, in north-west England.

Seventeen-year-old Scot is staring out of the small window of his ground floor cell across to high walls covered in razor wire. He is in the last week of a sentence for armed robbery with a knife and a string of burglaries.

"I did six months then I started playing up and that - fighting, smashing my TV," he says. "I was doing stupid things just because I was bored and in the end they got sick of it."

Scot is one of the residents of Willow, an experimental 11-bed unit that sits in the grounds of Hindley Young Offenders' Institution near Wigan.

The idea is to take the most disruptive teenagers out of the sprawling main wings of the prison where they can cause the most trouble.

Prison officers on Willow are specially trained to deal with disruptive behaviour; staffing levels are three times higher; and there is easier access to both mental health treatment and drug and alcohol services.

Teenagers get to spend more time out of their cells and are offered the kind of individual attention that it is impossible to provide on the much larger main wings.

Many more of these enhanced units are now planned in other Young Offenders Institutions across England and Wales.

"Often some young people are completely disengaged from the regime, from education and from prison staff," says Andy Rogers, the senior clinical psychologist attached to the unit.

"If someone is being violent, that's the first thing we need to address. Then we can have rosier expectations about making the world a better place.

"If we can prevent a young person being violent to another young person by bringing them onto Willow then it has served its purpose," he says.

But the idea has some fierce critics.

The Howard League, which campaigns for reform of the prison system, describes the measure as "like trying to put sticking plaster on a gaping wound".

It suspects enhanced units are being used as a cheaper alternative to dealing with these types of young offenders than much more expensive options like a secure children's home or dedicated hospital ward.

Teenagers are moved onto Willow for disruptive or high risk behaviours.

Psychologist on tackling violence in young inmates

That could include acts of violence but also setting fires, attempting to escape, spitting, smearing excrement and extreme self-harm.

Seventeen-year-old Matt was transferred to the unit in January after getting involved in a series of fights on C-wing:

"I was in the exercise yard the first time, hit one lad, he fell on the floor," he says. "I stamped on him. And then I went and hit another lad. I swung for him as well. I assaulted two people then I went for the third one."

"You have to stand your ground otherwise people will start bullying you. They put me on here because they know I can't be trusted," Matt explains.

"We all get along in here. But on a wing you've got a load of stirrers who can't hack it. They start bullying people and that's how I get in fights."

The reoffending rate after leaving youth prison is even higher than for mainstream adult jail.

Around 75% of the teenagers in Hindley will commit another crime within a year of their release, if current trends continue. Given the nature of its inmates, the rate in Willow is likely to be even higher.

The staff working on the unit accept it is unrealistic to hope these teenagers will walk free and never commit another offence.

Instead the objective is to reduce the severity of any future offence or increase the length of time between offences.

"It is where we set our bar," says psychologist Andy Rogers. "For some of the young people, it can't get much worse. If they are still punching people at the same frequency and severity as when they came in then we haven't done our job."

It is still too early to tell if Willow is really making a difference - that will take long, expensive studies over many years.

The government says the early signs are encouraging enough to commission more of these units across England and Wales.

At the same time the Youth Justice Board is cutting number of places in secure children's homes, an alternative run and managed by local authorities.

Setting up the Willow unit cost prison authorities around £2m, or £181,000 a cell. But overall running costs are likely to be significantly lower than a secure children's home where there are far fewer teenagers and staffing levels are higher.

The latest figures from April 2011 show a place in a Young Offenders Institution costs the state around £57,000 a year, almost four times lower than the £211,000 needed to pay for a place in a secure children's home.

"Cost appears to be the only real consideration," says Frances Crook at the Howard League for Penal Reform. "The number of beds in the effective, but expensive, secure children's homes is being reduced while we continuing to rely on huge child jails and privately run training centres."

The group is also concerned that enhanced units can stigmatise the young people transferred there and cause tension within the wider prison, giving the impression that a small group is getting preferential treatment.

It says the most disruptive young prisoners often have the most complex mental health needs. In those extreme cases, it wants teenagers referred to a secure mental health hospital.

The deputy governor of Hindley, Mark Livingstone, disagrees saying the level of violence that some of the young people held on Willow are capable of cannot be managed properly outside the prison system.

Another Willow resident, 17-year-old Kieran, has been in and out of custody since he was 15. He is now coming to the end of his latest sentence, this time after breaking someone's nose in a pub brawl.

"I haven't lost it since I've been here in Willow. I take it that's a good thing," he says.

"It's different when I drink so when I get out I'm moving to a new area and trying to have a fresh start."

But when he is asked about his chances of staying out of trouble his confidence quickly fades.

"50:50. We'll just have to see won't we," he says.

Some names have been changed for this report as the individuals involved are under 18 years old.

Watch the full report on Newsnight on Tuesday 12 June 2012 at 10.30pm on BBC Two, then afterwards on the BBC iPlayer and Newsnight website.

Source:
BBC News External Link Show Citation

Latest News

Harvard Citation

BBC News, 2012. Tackling violence in Europe's largest youth prison [Online] (Updated 12th Jun 2012)
Available at: http://www.ukwirednews.com/news/1434144/Tackling-violence-in-Europes-largest-youth-prison [Accessed 25th Jul 2014]

News In Other Categories

  • Senegal’s cattle rustlers face mobile tech fightback

    "This is our concern. When it comes to raising cattle it's our job, when you're born you see your father doing it, it represents everything to us."
  • RBS reports surprise rise in profit but warns of 'bumpy road' ahead

    Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) has said it expects pre-tax profits of £2.65bn for the first half of the year, up from £1.37bn last year.
  • Chicken factory probe ordered by health secretary

    An investigation into allegations of hygiene failings at poultry processing factories has been ordered by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt.
  • Drogheda teenager drowns in reservoir at Rosehall

    A 13-year-old boy has drowned in a reservoir in Drogheda, County Louth.
  • Bedtime light 'may stop cancer drug working'

    Even low levels of light in bedrooms may stop breast cancer drugs from working, US researchers have warned.
  • Bristol Academy extends reach overseas with first foreign students

    With the doors to its brand new £1million training centre officially open, one of the UK's leading apprentice training providers, Bristol based S&B Automotive Academy, is showcasing its world-class facilities by launching a series of foreign student exchanges for the first time in its 41-year history. To get a flavour of what life is like as an apprentice in the UK, the Academy hosted 16 apprentice engineers and bus drivers from the G9 Automotive College in Hamburg, Germany, as part of a Europe-wide vocational training initiative called the ‘Leonardo Programme’ with support from the European Social Fund. In a reciprocal arrangement, S&B will be sending nine apprentices to Germany during February 2012 so that they can get an appreciation of life in the automotive industry on the Continent. A further three German exchange groups are being planned for next year. Designed to assist the development of vocational skills and training across Europe, including work placements for trainees, the Leonardo Programme has a budget of €1.75bn, which is helping to encourage UK organisations to work with their counterparts abroad. In what is expected to be another challenging year for employers in the UK automotive sector, S&B’s Chief Executive, Jon Winter, claims that the exchange initiative will bring many benefits to the Academy and its apprentices: “In a world of global automotive brands, it’s important for our learners to understand the international context of the industry they have chosen to make their career. This new exchange programme will enable apprentices and Academy staff alike to achieve a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities within the automotive arena in Europe. With the Academy’s influence also extending to the USA and Asia, there’s every possibility that this initiative could move further afield in the future.” Continued Winter: “The need for skilled technicians across the world is on the increase and we actively encourage our apprentices to look at broader horizons during their training. Many of them have already learned the phrase ‘Vorsprung durch Gelehrtheit’, quite simply, ‘Advancement through learning.” In the 2010/11 academic year, S&B doubled the number of successful Apprenticeships over the previous year with some 350 apprentices graduating from the Academy. At the same time, achievement levels reached an all-time high with an overall success rate of 85%. For those learners on the Advanced Apprenticeship three-year programme, success rates were even higher, at over 98%. PHOTO CAPTION: As part of their exchange visit, S&B Automotive Academy arranged for the German apprentices to visit Hampshire bus operator, Bluestar, at its Barton Park depot. The students are pictured with S&B’s Andy West (3rd right) and Steve Prewett, Bluestar’s Area Engineering Manager (2nd right). Ends http://www.sandbaa.com