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Evaluation of Custodial Regimes in Young Offender Institutions for Young People Under 18


The Youth Justice Board commissioned the Policy Research Bureau (PRB) to undertake this comparison of the regimes in different custodial establishments for young people under 18 years.

PRB has undertaken a series of studies on custody and young people for the Board and the Home Office, and this comparison study linked directly with our evaluations of the Detention and Training Order (DTO) - the main custodial sentence for juvenile offenders in England and Wales.

Introduced in April 2000, the DTO combined time in custody with an intensive follow-up period of supervision in the community. However, implementing this innovative approach to serious and persistent offending brought significant challenges to secure institutions. In contrast to Young Offender Institutions' (YOIs) previous emphasis on detention, the new disposal called for a 'positive and constructive' emphasis on education, training, and preparation for the community period. This research study compared how different types of YOIs addressed these new demands, in order to draw out crucial messages for good practice in the rapidly developing juvenile secure estate. Combined with our wider DTO research, the study provided a major contribution to the policy and practice debates on what works with persistent young offenders.

What did the research focus on?

The study examined the characteristics of interventions across YOIs, concentrating on their ethos and activities during a focus period of June 2000 - June 2001, and highlighted changes to regimes since that time. The project had four main aims:

1. To identify key 'process factors' that characterised regimes. How did institutions differ in the way that they approached, for instance, education and training, behavioural management and preparation for release?

2. To produce an overview of the extent of changes in regimes. How did regimes adapt to the DTO and what were the main barriers and enabling factors in their pathways to successful implementation?

3. To create a typology of regimes to assess effectiveness. Could the institutions be grouped according to the key process factors? How did these process factors relate to the working 'culture' of an institution?

4. To produce lessons of good practice for custodial institutions. Were the best examples of these key process factors working effectively?

What did the research involve?

The research was conducted in three main stages. The primary method of data collection concentrated on documentary material, including: reports from monitors, evaluators and inspectors, internal documents such as mission statements, operational guidelines and programme syllabuses. Second, we conducted in-depth telephone interviews with key personnel from each institution. Third, we undertook site visits to a number of YOIs, which included group discussions with young people about the current nature of the regimes.

Timescale and final products of the research

The project ran for 12 months, from April 2002 to March 2003. A final report to the Youth Justice Board was submitted in Spring 2003. This study then fed into our wider work for the Board on the DTO, completed in Spring 2004.

Last updated July 2004