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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

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

E.4: Safety

43. A series of recent reports have been highly critical of the levels of safety in institutions detaining children.

  • The 2016/17 HMIP report[1] described the lack of safety in establishments which hold children as “dire” and noted a “staggering decline” in safety. It said that there was “not a single establishment that we inspected in England and Wales in which it was safe to hold children and young people”.
  • The 2017 Youth Custody Improvement Board report[2] concluded that “the youth estate was on the edge of coping”.
  • The 2017 Ofsted annual report[3] said its inspection findings reflected serious concerns held nationally about, among other things, the safety of children in STCs.

44. It appears the level of physical violence is higher in custodial institutions holding children than those holding adults, but also that it is increasing:

  • Ministry of Justice figures from 2014 suggest that, despite comprising just 1 percent of the prison population, 11 percent of recorded prison assault victims were children.
  • Youth Justice Board data from 2016 indicated there were 1,294 recorded assaults in custody, equivalent to 18.9 assaults per 100 children in 2016, up from 9.7 in 2011.
  • The HMIP report from 2016/17 also indicates that levels of violence in the youth secure estate have increased. Of the four YOIs inspected, levels of violence had risen at three and there were concerns about under-reporting at the fourth. Levels of the use of force by staff were high at the YOIs and STCs, and the latter were found to be insufficiently safe overall.[4] 

45. Dr Janes referred to a wider pattern of data from the five years leading up to 2015/16. For this period she explained that Ministry of Justice figures indicate the use of force by staff had increased by 36 percent, assaults had increased by 95 percent and self-harm by 120 percent.[5]

46. There is also evidence of increased reports of children feeling unsafe. The Inquiry’s REA noted that, within YOIs in England and Wales in 2015/16, 18 percent of boys reported they felt unsafe. The proportion who reported ever having felt unsafe was 46 percent, the highest recorded figure. Children reported feeling least safe in YOIs and most safe in SCHs, with STCs in between.[6] Dr Janes told us that from April 2016 to March 2017 HMIP figures suggest that 39 percent of boys in YOIs and more than one in five in STCs reported that they did not feel safe.[7]

47. We explored the safety issue with several witnesses in order to understand what had led to these findings on declining safety and whether this pattern of decline was related to sexual abuse of children in custody.[8]

48. Although Dr Janes did not explicitly link declining safety to child sexual abuse, she was of the opinion that child abuse in custody should be considered in the context of the wider environment of violence and power imbalance. There is of course a very low chance of children disclosing abuse if they are too afraid to speak out.[9]

49. Angus Mulready-Jones, the lead inspector for children in detention for HMIP, considered the causes of the decline in safety included children being held further from home; there being a higher proportion of those in custody who have committed a violent or sexual offence; instability in management in some institutions, particularly in STCs; and instability in staffing at all levels, including senior leadership. He said the HMIP report for 2017/18,[10] published during our hearings, concluded there had been some improvement. Three YOIs received the ‘reasonably good’ rating in respect of safety in their most recent reports. However, safety in YOIs had declined in as many places as it had improved; the remaining three YOIs and all STCs received the lowest two ratings in all respects. Levels of violence in STCs were the highest in any type of institution inspected. For example, in Oakhill STC, an institution holding 75 children, there were 110 incidents involving the use of force each month. Angus Mulready-Jones considered there is a link between violence and sexual abuse. One reason was that children are less likely to trust the institution to protect them if they were to report sexual abuse.[11]


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