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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Sexual Abuse of Children in Custodial Institutions: 2009-2017 Investigation Report

E.3: Potential environmental risk factors

32. We heard evidence about issues arising from the physical environment of custodial institutions.

Access to children’s cells and rooms

33. As explained in Part C, there is some evidence from the Inquiry’s prevalence analysis of abuse occurring in a cell, but it was not always clear whether the alleged perpetrator was another child or a member of staff.

34. Children sharing cells: Peter Savage, formerly of the Youth Justice Board, explained that the only place in the secure estate where children may now share cells is HMYOI Parc. This reflects the Youth Custody Service gradually moving away from cell sharing as a policy, partly driven by capacity issues rather than safety concerns.[1] Before a child shares a cell, a Cell Sharing Risk Assessment is carried out, following PSI 20/2015.[2] Peter Savage said the assessment was a detailed process, looking at the risk of violence and sexual abuse both as a victim and as a perpetrator. However, we note that the wording of PSI 20/2015 – which appears to have expired in June 2017 – focusses on identifying whether a child was “at risk of murdering or very seriously assaulting another prisoner in a closed space”. It does not mention sexual abuse or any lower threshold of violence. Overall, insofar as children do share cells, Peter Savage considered there was a sufficiently effective system in place to minimise the risk of children engaging in sexually harmful behaviour with each other.[3]

35. The ability of staff to enter cells and rooms: Peter Savage said that in YOIs and STCs a member of staff may enter a child’s cell if it is thought to be necessary to do so, even if the young person does not consent. He thought the position in SCHs is the same in practice.[4] Steve Gillan, General Secretary of the POA, said the POA considers that two staff members should always be present when entering an occupied room.[5] Alison Sykes, Head of Secure and Emergency Services for South Gloucestershire Council and the registered manager for Vinney Green SCH, explained that staff are encouraged not to go into bedrooms at Vinney Green “for obvious reasons”. However, there are exceptions; for example, if the child is self‑harming.[6]

36. We note there are some policies and procedures for staff working alone,[7] but it seems these are not of general application.

CCTV and body-worn cameras

37. As set out in the Inquiry’s REA, there is evidence indicating that the presence of CCTV in custodial environments has had some positive impacts (but there is a risk of over-reliance on CCTV in investigations).[8] The Youth Custody Service said CCTV is now “routinely used”[9][10][11] in child custody and is being extended to reduce ‘blind spots’.[12][13] HMIP and Ofsted reports indicate that CCTV in communal areas generally improves safety.[14] Body-worn cameras are now in “widespread use”,[15] and they have the additional benefit of audio coverage, unlike CCTV.[16]

38. The witnesses expressed mixed views about the benefits of CCTV and body-worn cameras:

  • Dr Janes, Legal Director of the Howard League, said some children feel safer with CCTV present, while others say it is intrusive. Similarly, some young people feel safer in the presence of an officer using a body-worn camera, whereas others see the operation of it by the person in charge turning it on and off as another power dynamic.[17]
  • Steve Gillan of the POA observed that the use of CCTV and body-worn cameras has increased dramatically, but acknowledged that abuse by its nature would be perpetrated covertly.[18][19]
  • Katherine Willison, Director of Children’s Social Care, Practice and Workforce within the Department for Education, suggested there is a balance to be struck between safeguarding on the one hand and recording everything inside a children’s home, if we are to encourage the development of positive relationships, mutual trust and respect.[20]
  • Sara Robinson, Interim Executive Director of the Youth Custody Service, described CCTV as being “incredibly helpful”, but both she and Peter Savage, Head of Operational Contract Management, Youth Custody Service, were concerned that widespread body-worn camera use could inhibit the personal relationship between a child and a staff member.[21][22]
  • The experience of Chief Constable Bailey (the National Police Chiefs’ Council’s lead on child protection) was that the use of body-worn cameras may make a difference but comes with unresolved issues about turning devices on or off and the volumes of data generated.[23]
  • Jonathan French, of HMPPS, told us that Medway STC has invested heavily in CCTV and put over 70 cameras into the centre so that it now covers all classrooms, stairwells and kitchen areas on the residential units. Body-worn cameras are now in optional use at Medway, and staff have been positive about them.[24]

39. The retention policies for such footage seem to vary. For example, MTC Novo’s policy states that footage is normally deleted after 31 days, except if it will be required later for evidence or for some other specific reason.[25]

Placing children for justice and welfare reasons together in secure children’s homes

40. As set out in the Inquiry’s REA, some research from the USA suggests that juvenile sexual offending can be a predictor of sexual misconduct in secure institutions. The REA noted that this raises concerns about the policy in England and Wales of accommodating children who have been found guilty of sexual offences with other children, especially with those who have been abused prior to custody. This is particularly the case in SCHs when some of the children have been placed there on welfare grounds.[26] We explored how the potential safeguarding challenges presented by this practice are being addressed.

41. Katherine Willison told us all children in SCHs are sent there by a court order, and the regulations and quality standards apply equally, regardless of the route by which the child came to be there. While the children may have arrived by different routes, their needs are often not vastly different. She said combining welfare and justice placements in SCHs appeared to be working reasonably well.[27]

42. Sara Robinson said a judgement is made about whether a new entrant to a SCH is appropriate but that, in reality, children coming in from both welfare and justice placements are often similar.[28]

References

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