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Changing the Structures Around Prison- Looking After Children and Young People

A group of 8 children in a secure children’s home have been able to challenge and change policy direction as a result of an advisor’s willingness to listen, engage and take into consideration their views and experience. Whilst we don’t believe such changes should rest on individual approaches, lucky meetings or personalities, we are really conscious of the impact of this work and the decision made as a result of it. In Safe Ground’s 25th birthday month, this feels like a fitting way to pay tribute to the young men in HMP/YOI Glen Parva who inspired Safe Ground’s original work in prisons and for so many of whom, prison and punishment prematurely ended their lives. In the moment when children’s care is so clearly under threat, this work seems all the more important.

Last year, the Strategic Advisor to the West Midlands PCC (Tom McNeil) was part of a team working on a piece of consultation and research into the design of a new secure centre for children across the region.

The thinking was fairly advanced and a mutual colleague suggested Tom talk to us.

As a result of that conversation, Safe Ground was commissioned to undertake a piece of research with children already accommodated in secure settings. The focus of the work was to understand from children themselves whether secure settings for children can be helpful; and how any such institution should consider the needs of children in ‘care’ as well as children ‘being punished’ by the courts.

Safe Ground designed an arts based methodology for use with two small groups of 8 boys in a secure children’s unit in NE England.

As a result of the work of the boys, the strategic advisor has changed his thinking about the development of a new secure establishment and is considering different options now:

“learning that children and young people in one of the country’s most respected secure children’s centres, still predominantly see youth offending as ‘deserving punishment’ or as simply a matter of ‘bad choices’ broke my heart. The evidence around why young people commit crime is there for all to see, and it nearly always involves deep vulnerability and hardship. These insights from young people themselves have made me question whether we should be designing new secure facilities at all.

Instead I am now thinking we should be looking for far more radical alternatives outside of secure settings. Given what we know about young people’s mental health and challenging home circumstances, there is good reason to believe alternatives are more likely to prevent crime and keep communities safe, while giving young people hope and a promising future. This is to replace a system that results in children and young people believing they should be blamed for their upbringing.

 

Safe Ground is very grateful to all the children, staff, funders and allies that made this significant piece of work possible. Thanks to everyone involved.

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