Dr Gill Robinson is Professional Advisor for the Young People’s Strategy with the Scottish Prison Service.
On December 4th the SPS launched its new Vision for Young People in Custody at an event at HMYOI Polmont. Following an introduction from Colin McConnell, Chief Executive of SPS, young men from HMYOI Polmont and young women from HMYOI Cornton Vale played leading roles. In Café Discussion sessions they explained how different activities are helping them to prepare for a positive future. Discussion topics included peer mentoring, gaining workplace skills and qualifications, parenting, co-design, restorative practice and anti-violence, bereavement and trauma, and planning for their time in custody and return to the community. In two speeches, young people gave their views on aspects of life in a YOI that they felt needed to be improved and also the experiences that had helped them most (notably prison staff who had got to know them and whom they trusted, and opportunities to gain new skills and/or qualifications).
The strategy itself takes account of what we know about the population of young people in custody, including:
- There has been a steady and substantial reduction in the numbers of young people in custody in recent years
- About 1000 young people per year are admitted to YOIs in Scotland after having been sentenced
- 464 young people were in custody on 17 November 2014
- Young men aged 16-17: 48; 18-21: 391
- Young women aged 16-17: 1; 18-21: 24
- About a third of those in custody are on remand
- 47.5% are convicted after leaving custody, but only 21% of those who have no previous convictions are reconvicted within a year
- 37% have not been in custody before
- More than a third say that they have been Looked After (in care)
- 70% say that they enjoyed school some of most of the time
- Nearly 90% were excluded from school
- 40% of those assessed are at or below level 3 in literacy and numeracy
- More than half have speech, language and communication needs
- 68% of young men were under the influence of alcohol at the time of their offence
- More than three quarters of a group of 33 young men in Polmont had experienced traumatic bereavement: with an average of five bereavements (Vaswani, 2014).
The aim of the strategy is ‘to use the time a young person spends in custody to enable them to prepare for a positive future’.
In practice this means:
1. Developing individual plans with young people for their time in custody and beyond, based on their assets and needs, and carrying it through with them
2. Enabling each young person to progress and achieve – as far as is possible depending upon their circumstances – across the four capacities of Curriculum for Excellence, using a version of the purposes of Curriculum for Excellence designed for this particular purpose.
3. Establishing the conditions to maximise the likelihood of positive change and minimise the effects of exclusion, including values, culture, regime, involving young people in decisions, staff skills and knowledge, relationships, services e.g. health, collaboration and good communication between all those involved.
Next steps are to continue the major development programme which is already underway in HMYOI Polmont, to devise (with young people) quality standards to use in self evaluation and improvement, and to plan and implement professional development for staff who work with young people in custody.
This work by SPS with many partners is based on evidence that, with support, many of these young people can return to their communities with new attitudes and skills which will enable them to make positive contributions to their communities, defying what might have been seen as their destinies.