Young offenders may be challenging, disruptive and guilty of serious offences but “you feared for them all”, the Chief Inspector of Prisons has said.
Nick Hardwick, reporting on Wetherby Young Offenders’ Institution in West Yorkshire, described how one young boy tearfully asked to be taken home to his mother while another, described as “low”, lay on his bed not speaking.
Some of the most challenging of the 340 boys held at the time of the inspection, most of whom were aged 16 and 17, were also the most vulnerable, he added.
“Walking round the establishment, the vulnerability of some of the young people held was obvious, “ Mr Hardwick said.
“One boy in the segregation unit with a lifelong medical condition that would have been hard for any teenager to manage, and who had exhibited very disruptive behaviour, asked me tearfully if I could take him home to his mum.
“I was later told he had been moved to a more appropriate secure medical facility.
“Another boy, who looked about 12 and was sporting a dramatic black eye, had been convicted of a serious offence, had been in further trouble and was confined to his cell.
“A boy in health care, described to me as low’, lay on his bed not speaking. All these boys were receiving good attention and care, but you feared for them all.”
A few days before the inspection at the end of January, two boys had died elsewhere in custody. And in April last year, Ryan Clark, 17 was found hanging in his cell at Wetherby, where he was being held on remand.
“The most striking feature of Wetherby was the wide range of the young people held, the challenge some of them posed and the extreme vulnerability of others, “ Mr Hardwick warned. “Some of the most challenging were also the most vulnerable.”
He said there were weaknesses which needed to be tackled by both the institution and the Government.
Some young people received no or very few visits, with about half of them being held more than 50 miles from home and one in seven more than 100 miles away.
Mr Hardwick said: “The greatest concern was the vulnerability of some of the young people held and the difficulty of holding them safely in a large establishment with a wide spread of population a long way from home - and that raises issues about how young offenders should be dealt with that cannot be resolved in one establishment alone.”