At the end of last week, the charity I lead, Prisoners Education Trust (PET), expressed its concern about Government plans to move all 18-20-year-olds from young offenders institutes (YOIs) to adult prisons. This was in response to the Ministry of Justice (MoJ)'s new consultation Transforming Management of Young Adults in Custody. Chiefly, we want to see more robust evidence to show that the proposals would lead to a reduction in reoffending or violence and increased safety in prisons.
There are indisputably high levels of violence in YOIs but how can we be sure this problem doesn't just get transferred to adult prisons? In cases where young people have already been moved this year they have been involved in a high number of assaults and we have also heard about gang-related incidents occurring in classrooms, which then puts them off doing any education.
If the decision to move all 18-year-olds to adult prisons has been made simply to save money then it will be at the very least counter productive and at worst dangerous. We have made clear that until there is a solid, evidence-based plan for how to deliver the higher level of support young people need, these plans should not go ahead.
We were also surprised to see no mention of learning in the consultation proposals. Earlier this year we praised the Government for saying it wanted to put education at the heart of the youth estate, but more must be done to rehabilitate all prisoners effectively through learning and young adults in particular. If not, we will have a situation where once a prisoner turns 18 they will suddenly drop off the education radar.
Although the MoJ says the changes will improve the safety of prisoners and staff, this is based on anecdote rather than fact as statistics show assaults involving young people in adult prisons are high. The plans have also been designed before the Government's own review of custodial violence that is due to report back early next year.
The decision was announced last month even though the MoJ is yet to publish its plans for an earlier consultation on under 18s within the Youth Justice System, which PET responded to in April 2013.
Among this group, 58% of young ex-prisoners reoffended within a year, compared with 46.9% of adults. Whilst 18 to 24-year-olds account for only one in 10 of the UK population, they account for a third of those sentenced to prison each year, a third of the probation service caseload and a third of the total economic and social costs of crime.
Research shows that young adults have the largest potential to change their lives and "grow out of crime", but inappropriate interventions can halt this desistance process. In addition, this group are likely to require more one-to-one support in the adult estate where they may be more vulnerable due to their age and maturity to prevent violence or self-harm.
We welcome the Government's focus on education for the youth estate but we would like to see support extended for lifelong learning for all prisoners.