Young offenders' care condemned

An appalling lack of education and training plus an atmosphere of violence and intimidation are described in a highly critical report on a young offenders' institution released this week, writes Biddy Passmore.

Only half of the 227 inmates under 18 at the Onley young offenders'

institution in Warwickshire had education or training places, reported Anne Owers, chief inspector of prisons.

And only 60 per cent of those places were being used. "Most unsentenced juveniles were locked up for 20 hours a day," she said.

Education targets were also unrealistically high. "Prison Service targets focus on reaching basic skills level 2," says Ms Owers.

"But only around 70 per cent of Onley's population is below level 1" (literacy and numeracy skills lower than those of the average 11-year-old).

Places were available for only one in three of the 150 young offenders who needed level 1 or entry level teaching.

The chief inspector's report is also highly critical of the culture of violence at Onley. Inspectors found alarmingly frequent use of "control and restraint" punishment techniques by staff and a lack of trust between staff and inmates, who accused their minders of intimidation.

The inspectors found such high levels of bullying, fights and assaults that they felt the care of some children would have been in breach of the Children Act.

The inspection took place last July. But Martin Narey, the director general of the prison service, said that, since then, Onley had been one of five institutions that had received a share of pound;5 million to improve services for young inmates. He insisted that improvements had been made.

The Government recently promised an extra pound;20m to improve prison education.

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