Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Parc Inspection Report should send Secure College Plans to the Drawing Board

 The champagne corks must be popping at the headquarters of G4S. After two “anni horribili”, the company can bask in the glow of a positive report from the Prisons Inspectorate. The children and young people at Parc prison in Bridgend are being well looked after and experiencing good education and healthcare. 

Coming after a run of appalling reports from HMIP about prisons of all kinds, it comes as something of a relief to read about a safe clean establishment, (or part of one at any rate), with low levels of violence, self-harm and drug use, doing its best to ensure that young people can access good and useful services and experience positive outcomes.

And as someone who has been critical of the shortcomings in some privately run prisons, it was sobering and pleasing to read about the positive staff culture at Parc. Young people, HMIP found, are not collectively seen as a problem or blamed, and the culture is not punitive.  There’s a lesson there for the rest of the juvenile secure estate. But what else can we learn?

For one thing of course that as far as prison custody is concerned, the Parc Unit is very much the exception rather than the rule. With a capacity of 64 and an average population of 50, it is smaller than each of the Secure Training Centres let alone the other Young Offender Institutions.  If not beautiful, small is the least ugly as far as prisons are concerned. The report suggests that the Coalition’s plans for a 320 bed secure college to be negligent at best and reckless at worst.

A second reflection is that according to the Howard League’s recent report, Parc Prison as a whole was one of the only prisons in the country to see its staff numbers increase between 2010 and 2013. According to a parliamentary answer last year, there were 70 total staff in post in the young offender unit in 2012. This relatively generous staffing ratio explains why for example more than two thirds of the young people told inspectors that someone had checked on them personally in the last week to see how they are getting on. In other juvenile YOI’s fewer than two fifths say so. 

There are weaknesses identified in the report. Fewer than a third of black and minority ethnic young people agreed that most staff treated them with respect compared to 80% of white young people. More worrying still, half of BME young people said they had been victimised compared to 7% of white. These findings deserve more attention than the Inspectors’ comments that they did not see evidence of this and children did not raise it with them. The Inspectors also skate over the finding that fewer than half of young people said it was easy to attend a religious service, compared to two thirds in 2012.

A more troubling anomaly is the Inspectors comment that the use of separation or segregation was commendably low. True it was lower than at the last inspection two years ago. But 131 placements in segregation in the six months prior to the inspection is actually high for a unit with 50 people. In a similar period, Wetherby used it 182 times with a population of 230; Hindley 96 times for a population of 161.

Inspection reports are immensely useful but would be even more so if they included a little more in the way of quantitative data.  Systematic information about staff numbers and ratios, budgets, numbers of incidents of various kinds would enable more telling comparisons to be made and lessons drawn. But there is no doubt about the main one to be taken from the Parc Inspection. Take plans for the Secure College back to the drawing board.  

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