Prison Service policy of mixing young and older adults is cited as driving up violence, reports Chief Inspector of Prisons

The National Offender Management Service’s policy of “mixing” young adults with older adults was cited as driving up levels of violence in the prison system, according to the annual report from HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, which was published today. But young adult prisons were found to be lacking in purposeful activity, with 38% of young adults in YOIs spending under 2 hours out of their cells, less than prisoners in all other prison categories.

T2A has long campaigned for the retention of specialist young adult prisons, but argued that the current system is failing and that YOIs should be reformed, better resourced and properly staffed. T2A has called for the retention of the sentence of Detention in a Young Offender Institution (DYOI) but argued that it should be extended beyond the current 18-20 age limit to 18-25. In recent years, nearly all distinct young adult prisons have been re-roled as mixed establishments, with only three distinct YOIs remaining. The government had previously cited violence reduction as a key justification for mixing older adults with young adults, which today’s report from HMIP contradicts.

The report notes that: “With only a very few exceptions, the frequency and seriousness of acts of violence had increased in men’s adult and young adult prisons…Assaults against staff had also increased significantly, and incidents included some extremely serious acts of violent mass indiscipline. The reasons cited for the increase in violence across the estate included curtailed regimes, a lack of activity, the emergence of NPS, debt and the mixing of young adults with adult male prisoners.”

Drug availability in prisons is unacceptably high but, encouragingly for young adult prisons, prisoner access to drugs was least likely in distinct young adult institutions. However, young adult prisons were found to be lacking in purposeful activity, with no distinct YOIs rated ‘good’ in this regard, emphasising the need for proper resourcing for this age group. 38% of young adults in YOIs reported spending under 2 hours out of cells, less time than prisoners in all other prison categories. At Aylesbury, a young adult training prison, some prisoners spent 23 hours a day locked up.

The report goes on to note that while the number of “young adult men aged 18–20 in prison had remained broadly static at 4,547…those who remained in custody were inevitably some of the most vulnerable and troubled young adults.”

In response to the government’s policy on mixing, HMIP’s report calls for “a clear and coherent strategy to ensure the management of young adult men in the wider prison population, and that this needed to be based on the individual needs of the young adult men themselves.”