UK: prison officers told to knock on cell doors to make youth detention "child friendly"

Prison officers have been told to knock before entering the cells of young inmates in order to make youth detention centres “more child friendly”. The edict follows a review by the Youth Custody Service who are responsible for institutions holding inmates aged up to 18.

The new guidelines mandate that officers working in youth detention centres must operate with a “child centred” focus.

According to The Times, the new guidelines would respect the privacy of young offenders. Unless there is an emergency officers have been warned: “Staff should knock prior to opening a viewing panel or entering a room.”

“It is important that appropriate language is used that reflect the specific, decent, respectful and caring culture that the youth custody service thrive for.”

However, Mick Pimpblett of the Prison Officers’ Association told The Times: “We will be advising our members to ignore any instructions based on this. We will not be doing this if we are instructed to do this by a governor who feels he wants to be politically correct. A prisoners could be in possession of a weapon or drugs which could be hidden if we have to knock first.”

This follows a report that shows that child criminals are being “set up to fail” on release from custody because there is inadequate support in place to help them turn their life around, according to inspectors.

The probation and prison watchdogs reviewed the support boys aged 12 to 17 received from services in their first three months after release.

They followed 50 who had all committed serious crimes or were repeat offenders and had been sentenced to detention and training orders, which meant they served half their time in custody and half in the community.

They all served time in the five young offender institutions (YOI) across England and Wales – Parc in Wales, Cookham Wood in Kent, Feltham in London, Werrington in Staffordshire and Wetherby in West Yorkshire.

In the three months after release, half of the group had been investigated by police, 10 had been convicted of more crimes and six of the group had gone missing.

Those who had reformed were “the exception rather than the rule”, inspectors said.

Richard Garside, the director of the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, called for the number of children sent to prison to be reduced, adding:

“On just about every measure – housing, education and training, physical and mental health, drug and alcohol services, social services – the state is failing children and young people leaving prison.”

“Unsurprisingly, many of them get into further trouble with the law and go back to prison.”

Chief inspector of probation Justin Russell, who took on the role in June, said the results of the review painted a ‘grim picture’, adding: “This is certainly the most disturbing report I’ve read since starting in my new role.”

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