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Young People in Custody UK

The information in this section is a useful guide for young people held in custody in the United Kingdom. Find out what happens at youth custodial interviews and how to arrange a visit to youngsters held in detention.

In fact, being sentenced to custody before you reach the age of 18 means you will not be sent to an adult prison. Instead, time spent in confinement takes place at one of the secure centres for young people.

Why are Young People Sent to Custody?

As a rule, the courts give sentences for young people who have committed a crime.

Even so, a young person would only get a custodial sentence if:

  • There is no other suitable option available (for serious crimes).
  • The youngster has committed crimes on previous occasions.
  • The judge or the magistrate thinks they pose a risk to the public.

Note: The court can decide to put an offender under 18 years old in custody on remand (taken to a secure centre for young people).

The Youth Justice Board makes decisions on where to send young offenders (e.g. which secure centre). It will be one of the centres that:

  • Caters for the needs of young people in a safe manner (e.g. if there is a health problem).
  • Provides suitable imprisonment for people of their age, gender, and cultural background.
  • Is located as close as possible to the youngster’s regular home address.

Arrival at Custody

A reception officer has the responsibility of interviewing young people in custody once they arrive. The custodial interview gives the officer an opportunity to find out what the child’s needs are (e.g. is health care needed).

Searching Young People in Custody

You should expect to have some of your belongings confiscated during the interview (e.g. money, mobile phone). You will also be searched to check whether you are carrying anything dangerous, such as drugs or weapons.

Meeting Your Personal Officer

As a young person in custody, you would meet a personal officer within the first few days. They would be taking care of your well-being during the time you spend in the secure centre.

Note: There is extra advice and support available for youngsters after committing a crime (see details below).

What Custody is Like for Young Offenders

Much of the time that young people spend in detention will be spent:

  • Having lessons.
  • Learning skills to help them find a job or help them return to education.
  • Participating in different activities (e.g. fitness, sport).
  • Taking part in behavioural programmes.

Some of the strict rules on what you can and cannot do are similar to those in prison life. For example, you may need to attend alcohol or drug counselling.

Types of Secure Centres in UK

The three different types of custody used for young people are:

Young offender institutions:

  • Are run by the Prison Service and by some private companies.
  • Are for young adults aged from 15 to 21 (different buildings house children who are under eighteen).
  • House between 60 to 400 individuals (split into ‘wings’ holding 30 to 60 detainees).

Secure training centres:

  • Are run by private companies housing people up to 17 years old.
  • House between 50 and 80 individuals split into units of five (5) to eight (8) people.
  • Operate thirty (30) hours of education and training per week (following a typical school day timetable).

Secure Children’s Homes (SCH):

  • Are run by local councils and meant for people aged ten (10) to fourteen (14).
  • Typically house between eight (8) and forty (40) individuals.
  • Operate thirty (30) hours of education and training per week (following a typical school day timetable).

Visiting Young People Held in Custody

You would need to make advance arrangements to visit someone held in a secure centre. Contact the staff at the centre to confirm what you would need to do.

There are some restrictions on who can visit. Arranging visits from family members and from adult friends should not be a problem. But, visitors under the age of 18 would need to be accompanied by an adult.

In case you were wondering:

Certain people can visit the youngster at any time and without an appointment. This rule applies to professionals who will be helping to support them (e.g. legal advisers, social workers).

Each centre will have their own specific times for when you can visit. They will notify all visitors of their visiting times schedule. As a rule, you cannot visit outside the fixed times.

In most cases, you will be able to visit a young person in custody one time per week (as a family member or a friend). But, this rule varies in different secure centres around the United Kingdom.

As a general rule, the centres allow three (3) people to make a visit together at one time. You may need express permission to take four or more people along.

Where to Get Help with Travel Costs

Family members of youngsters held in custody can sometimes get help with the costs paying them a visit (e.g. for petrol or train tickets). The rules for claiming money back differ depending on where you will be visiting.

To make travel claims for visiting a young offender institution (YOI) you will need to contact the Prison Service.

Prison Service
Telephone: 0300 063 2100
Monday to Friday: 10:15am to 11:45am and 2:15pm to 3:45pm
Check call charges to 0300 numbers.

To make travel claims for visiting a Secure Children’s Home you will need to contact the young person’s youth offending team.

To make travel claims for visiting a secure training centre (STC) you will need to call the STC that you are visiting.

The secure training centre monitor will inform you how to make a claim and what it would cover.

Check to see if you can:

Note: In some cases, people with young children may qualify for help with registered childminder costs while visiting young people in custody.

Visiting Young People on Remand

The youth offending team working with the young person can organise a visit for you. But, no financial help is available for travel costs incurred when visiting a young person on remand.

Getting Extra Advice and Support

It can be a daunting and a lonely experience to be held in custody as a young person. But, there will be several members of staff that you can speak to for advice or support, such as:

  • The personal officer who is in charge of your well-being.
  • A chaplain, a social worker, or a teacher.
  • A doctor (GP), a nurse, or another type of health worker.

Note: Chaplains will provide support to anyone, no matter what their faith is. You can also ask to speak to a chaplain of your own faith if that’s what you prefer.

Youth Offending Team Support

Someone from one of the local youth offending teams stays in contact with young adults in custody. That means you would be able to make contact with them whenever you need to.

Support from Friends and Family

Young persons held in confinement will be able to contact their family on a regular basis. But, you would need to follow the correct procedure to arrange a visit from them.

Note: When young people come into custody, they can ask to speak to someone from an advocacy service.

Help from Advocacy Services

Some children’s charities also run advocacy services. They offer confidential help to young person’s in custody, particularly those who:

  • Are finding it challenging to speak out for themselves.
  • Having problems understand something (e.g. how the legal system works in United Kingdom).
  • Are unable to make themselves understood.

Contacting people from an advocacy service is straight forward. They make regular visits to secure centres. So, young people will find it easy to meet with them, even while being detained.

Telephone: 0808 168 2694

Find out call charges.

Note: Use this number if you are in a young offender institution (YOI) or a secure training centres (STC). Ask a member of staff for the number if you are in a Secure Children’s Home (SCH).

Other Organisations that Can Help

The Howard League for Penal Reform offer legal advice and specialist help for people under 18 in custody.

The Howard League

Telephone: 08088010308
Monday to Friday: 9am to 5pm
Thursday: 9am to 7pm

The Prison Reform Trust and the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders (Nacro) do not give out legal advice. The organisations offer advice and support to young adults in custody and their families.

The Prison Reform Trust
Telephone: 0808 802 0060
Monday: 3.30pm to 7.30pm
Tuesday and Thursday: 3.30pm to 5.30pm

Telephone: 0800 0181 259
Monday to Friday: 9am to 5pm

Note: The video [8:52 seconds] explains more on young people’s experience of the formal youth justice system.

A Guide for Young People in Custody in the United Kingdom