The Minister of justice, Dr Phillip Lee, yesterday announced new government plans for Secure Schools in England and Wales. Outlined in the “Secure Schools Vision” is a compact overview of how the Ministry of Justice intends these new establishments to be run. These schools will emphasise education and rehabilitation while being run in a secure manner. It is said that there will be a holistic approach to their management which aims to positively contribute to a youth’s education, health, and life and social skills.

The document states that “they will be akin to a special residential school or secure children’s home and not simply prisons with education.”

Background

Yesterday’s announcement of Secure Schools is part of the government’s response to the Charlie Taylor Review.

The 2016 review was commissioned by Michael Gove, the then Education Secretary, to investigate how improvements could be made to the youth justice system to reduce levels of re-offending. At the helm of the review was Charlie Taylor, a former head teacher and behavioural expert.

The review criticised the education provided to those in the youth justice system arguing that attempts to improve the level of education given were being done too slowly and that the type of education did not have appropriate focus. It found there was not enough focus on teaching numeracy and literacy, as well as the general educational experience not keeping pace with the improvements and updates to the curriculum outside of young offenders’ institutions.

The review found, among other aspects, that many of those in the youth justice system had mental health issues, learning difficulties, and other health problems.

It was also acknowledged that a significant number of those in the system had come from backgrounds which included various adverse conditions such as abuse, drug and alcohol misuse, and dysfunctional family life. While these were certainly not considered to be an “excuse for their behaviour”, it was accepted that the failings of government services and agencies to combat issues such as those contributed to the path to Crime that youths took. These factors highlighted the vulnerability of offenders and were argued to be detrimental to their ability to learn.

Mental health services were another area that received criticism. According to the report, many youths were found to be suspected of having undiagnosed mental health conditions as the level of problems needed to receive support from Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHs) in some areas was argued to be too high. For those in young offenders’ institutions, over a third were reported as having a mental illness.

Several suggestions for improvement were made including suggestions for changes to be made regarding children in court, the central government’s relationship with the youth justice system, and the proposal of Secure Schools rather than “youth prisons”.

Taylor called for schools to have a “psychologically-informed ethos running through all its interactions with children” in order to deliver an effective service.

Changes announced

Yesterday’s Press Release from the Ministry of Justice stressed that “tailored education and healthcare” will be put at the “heart of youth justice.” Improving educational standards and provision for boosting physical and mental health will thus be prioritised. If implemented to a good standard, this should help tackle shortfalls of the system that were highlighted in the Charlie Taylor Review.

It was further said not-for-profit organisations would oversee the management of the Secure Schools and that these organisations should be dedicated to ensuring that the best attempts are made to turn lives around as a result of entering the youth justice system. The process of rehabilitation will include “personalised programmes that build on [the offenders’] strengths and potential” using interventions which are evidence-based and teaching in fitting ratios of staff to young offender.

These new schools would each have places for 60-70 youths aged between 12 and 17. Discussions of protocols for inspections of Secure Schools are said to be underway.

Commenting on yesterday’s announcement, Lee has said: “Good education in and out of the classroom is the key to unlocking a secure and stable future for young people and I am determined to drive forward our comprehensive reforms so that young people are equipped with the skills to live successful, crime-free lives on release.”

“Secure Schools will focus on the root cause of offending, by intervening early to help break the cycle of reoffending – making our streets safer and diverting young people away from a life of crime.”

Future of the youth justice system

The launch of a vision for Secure Schools is the first of a number of reforms within the justice system. It is unknown at this early stage when the first Secure Schools will be created, though the government is holding an event in July for organisations interested in running them. These schools, along with other much-needed reforms, will hopefully curb re-offending rates.