Young offenders institutions
Programmes, support and reviews

During a child’s time in custody, the period of stability this affords should be utilised as an opportunity to provide full support and interventions to children to build on their strengths, address their underlying needs, form relationships and encourage healthy development to promote positive outcomes and a better future (CYCJ, 2020; Vaswani, Paul and Papadodimitraki, 2016; SPS, 2021). Supports should focus on promoting and supporting the physical and psychological recovery and social reintegration of children, healing and rehabilitation (Article 39 UNCRC). Therefore throughout their time in custody, the child’s needs should be met, their rights upheld, and tailored opportunities for learning and development, supports and interventions provided as identified in the Child’s Plan (SPS, 2021). Support in meeting these needs should continue when the child returns to the community or moves elsewhere within the Scottish Prison Service (SPS). HM Inspectorate of Prisons for Scotland (2019) have reported positively on the range of evidence-based opportunities available to children in HMP&YOI Polmont, with clear importance of encouraging, motivating and supporting children to maximise the use of these opportunities:

“You get opportunities in jail, like doing the Construction Skills Certification Scheme card, Duke of Edinburgh…outside you don’t know where to go and access that stuff” (Nolan, Dyer and Vaswani, 2018, p.16).

Programmes, interventions and supports

To access programmes, a child must be referred for a generic programme assessment. This will then be presented to the Programmes Case Management Board (PCMB), a multi-disciplinary group who will determine which programme is most suitable. Available programmes vary by establishment and may include:

On completion, the child will be presented back to the PCMB to discuss progress and any outstanding areas of need, vulnerability or risk, where interventions or supports could benefit the child, to inform future case management.

Children can access a range of further support services that may include official bodies (e.g. Job Centre; Department of Work and Pensions; Skills Development Scotland) and a wide range of third sector organisations. Supports and activities may include youth work, parenting, employability, life skills, counselling, and in respect of relationships, trauma, abuse, loss and bereavement. A range of other activities which are intended to improve young people’s life chances, such as peer mentoring, are also available in HMP&YOI Polmont.


A full curriculum is available for children and a range of qualifications can be accessed, from vocational qualifications to higher education. The SPS (2021) also emphasise using the entire life and work of the establishment for learning and development, aiming to provide experiences to enable progress and achievements across four strands of learning: Confident individual, Responsible citizen, Successful learner and Effective Contributor (SPS, 2021).

Depending on the length of time the child will be in custody and the availability of places, children on remand may have opportunities to participate in education, relevant support activities and youth work. Particular concerns have been raised about the impact of more limited opportunities being offered to children on remand, particularly in the contribution to social isolation and lack of meaningful engagement, and encouragement and uptake of those activities that are available, which is worrying given the recognised mental health and wellbeing impacts of social isolation (HMIPS, 2019a, 2019b).


Children on remand do not have to work but those who have been sentenced do. The work that is available varies by establishment but may include joinery, plumbing, painting, bricklaying, engineering, welding, and hairdressing.

Health and wellbeing

Health services to children in custody are provided by the local NHS Health Board. The main healthcare services include:

A range of further clinics, services, groups and programmes are available. Health Centre staff can also refer children on for a range of other healthcare services, both internally and externally. This would be determined by individual need and in some cases, services are offered as opt out (e.g. sexual health and blood borne virus screening). The length of a child’s stay in custody may also affect service access, such as whether treatment would take longer than the period a child is deprived of their liberty. As required, care plans are established and reviewed regularly, with multi-disciplinary case conferencing available to provide management plans for individuals who have complex needs.

In HMP&YOI Cornton Vale, the above services are available, alongside a mother and baby unit; and where a child is pregnant, automatic referral would be made to the community midwife, social work, Forth Valley NHS maternity services, multi-disciplinary mother and baby meetings and a child development worker.

Prison-based social work

In addition to the social worker based in the local authority where the child ordinarily resides, prison-based social work services are available. Further information on the roles and responsibilities of these services are detailed in the National Objectives for Social Work Services in the Criminal Justice System: Standards – Throughcare.


Children must be fully involved and have influence in all discussions, decisions, recommendations and plans for their care, support and future (Article 12 UNCRC). Regular reviews, and supporting children’s participation in such review meetings and processes, are crucial in ensuring children receive the care and support they require during their stay in custody and monitoring the impact of such support on the child, their wellbeing and outcomes.

For all children: Review meetings should take place throughout the child’s time in custody at a frequency determined by the length of sentence and the child’s needs. Reviews should by chaired by a representative from the local authority where the child ordinarily resides and include the child or young person, their family (where appropriate), Personal Officer and YOI staff (where possible), the Lead Professional and other relevant professionals. A Template for Reviews for Young People in Custody has been developed to support the chairing and recording of reviews. These reviews of the Child’s Plan should be undertaken based on GIRFEC wellbeing indicators and outcomes detailed in the plan. Reviews should be recorded as per local arrangements and the Child’s Plan updated by the Lead Professional following this. Minutes and the updated Child’s Plan should be shared with the young person and relevant others, particularly the personal officer.

The community-based social worker/Lead Professional should maintain contact with the child throughout their time in custody, at a frequency dependent on the child’s needs. Out with reviews, communication and the sharing of information and plans between the Lead Professional and Personal Officer should be ongoing.

The Positive Futures Plan will be reviewed regularly by the child and their Personal Officer and be shared with others - including the Lead Professional - so that changes are reflected in the Child’s Plan.

In addition

Enhanced Integrated Case Management (ICM): after the initial case conference, there will be an annual case conference between 11 and 13 months and annually thereafter.

Risk Management Team (RMT): for children who have progressed to the stage where community access may be appropriate (for example through escorted visits home, work placements and eventual unescorted home leaves) and/or have additional needs in terms of their management, this multi-disciplinary body will review their case. The RMT sits weekly in HMYOI Polmont and fortnightly in HMP&YOI Cornton Vale.

For children subject to Compulsory Supervision Orders: reviews should be as detailed in The Looked After Children (Scotland) Regulations 2009.

For children or young people subject to an Order for Lifelong Restriction (OLR):

Separation, searching and restraint

In custody under the Prisons and Young offenders Institutions (Scotland) Rules 2011, the Governor may order that a child may be removed from association and can be located in a ‘separation and reintegration unit’ (SRU) for the purpose of:

  1. Maintaining good order or discipline;
  2. Protecting the interests of any prisoner;
  3. Ensuring the safety of other persons.

Any decision to do so should be evidenced and justified, lasting for the shortest time necessary, and cannot last for more than 72 hours, unless an extension has been authorised. The child must be informed in writing of any extension and the reasons for this, as well as being entitled to make representations to the Prison Governor prior to any extension being made. HMIPS (2019) recognised that social isolation, including that owing to physical segregation, was a key trigger for self-harm and suicide and recommended that this is reduced to an absolute minimum, quoting Armstrong and McGhee (2019, p.8) “Isolation has profoundly damaging effects on a person’s ability to cope in prison with particularly intense and enduring effects on young people.”

Children in custody may be searched by a prison officer at any time. This can include search of the child, their clothing, the removal of clothing, a visual examination of the external parts of the child’s body after the removal of their clothing, a visual examination of their open mouth, search of any items of property in the child’s possession, or search of the child’s room or any property contained within (The Prisons and Young Offenders Institutions (Scotland) Rules 2011). Where this involves search of the child or removal of clothing this must be conducted by someone of the same gender and where clothing is removed, another officer of the same gender must also be present. The search must be conducted as quickly and decently as possible, and except in the case of searching an individual’s open mouth, the use of reasonable and proportionate force is permitted. For children and young people in custodial settings in Scotland there have been major incidents and concerns relating to the inappropriate use of strip-searching. As such the Expert Review of Mental Health in HMP&YOI Polmont (HMIPS, 2019), recommended that there should be change to legislation and organisational practice to minimise re-traumatisation and stigma, including to make the use of body searching intelligence-led only, with the Cabinet Secretary for Justice having announced the routine strip searching of children in Scotland will cease.

Children in custody can also be restrained or subject to the use of force by officers only when it is necessary to do so, taking into account all of the circumstances of the situation, and the force used must be proportionate and no more than necessary for the purposes of that situation (The Prisons and Young Offenders Institutions (Scotland) Rules 2011). This can include the use of pain inducing restraint and any such use of force must be recorded and as necessary explained, with all staff trained as appropriate to their role, with training compulsory and accompanied by annual refresher training (SPS, 2012).

These practices raise significant concerns about the upholding and infringements of children’s rights; their impact on children; and the place of such practices in the provision of trauma-informed care (see Lightowler, 2020; Independent Care Review, 2020; Armstrong and McGhee, 2020).

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