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It’s just under two months until young offenders in four young offender institutions (YOIs) are given double the amount of hours they will spend in class each week. With new and improved education contracts for under-18s in detention, the government is hoping to tackle the root cause of youth crime. 

That’s quite an ambitious statement though. Yes, more needs to be done to seriously address youth reoffending, but as to whether the measure will tackle all the root causes, we’re undecided.

The contracts, which are due to start in March, will see a number of YOIs introduce the 30 hour class contact time. Three of the YOIs are Manchester based (HMYOI Cookham Wood, HMYOI Werrington and HMYOI Wetherby) and the other is in Hounslow, London (HMYOI Feltham).

With a combined value of £12 million, the contracts are expected to provide the same high quality education as mainstream schools and colleges, with classroom teaching and vocational education options available. The core subjects of Maths, English and Computing will all be taught as part of a tailored package, together with PE and relevant work experience. 

Everyone has a right to educational resources to help them, and the very introduction of a dramatic increase in the amount of educational contact time at YOIs is in principle a good idea. We must not forget though, that some of these young people, might not have had a good experience with school despite their ability to learn. The challenge will be ‘reinventing education’ and there must be a focus on self-attainment and being able to use what they’ve learned in everyday life upon their release. 

After all, Justice Minister Andrew Selous, was quite right in saying that “young offenders present some of the biggest challenges in our society”. Currently, 68% of young people released from custody reoffend within a year. 

High-quality education at YOIs is vital and learning really needs to be at the centre of YOIs culture. In the past, this has been a challenge given the lack of funding and direction to do so. 

The contracts are part of the Transforming Youth Custody (TYC) programme, which is also introducing Secure Colleges. We’re glad to see that this represents a move away from the traditional prison environment of bars on windows. It’s been proposed that a much wider pool of people will be drawn upon from the private and voluntary sector to provide the best education, vocational training, healthcare and life-skills support for young people. 

Whilst legislation on Secure Colleges is included in the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill, which is currently going through Parliament, it is anticipated that the first Secure College will open in Leicestershire in 2017. It sounds a long way off, but what we are seeing is the culmination of ambitious government plans to place education, and most importantly opportunity, at the centre of youth custody. This is something that the professionals we recruit have been focusing on for some time, but will hopefully have a lot more resources to provide the right support for the young people they work with. 

We mustn’t lose sight of the fact that as important as education is, so too is the resettlement of young offenders leaving YOIs. They need access to suitable accommodation, with options to continue their education and training at the same pace outside of the criminal justice system. We just hope that projects, such as The Turn Around to Work Initiative will see local and national employers in London and Greater Manchester provide those educated and trained young people leaving custody with opportunities. After all, the ability of the government in tackling the root cause of youth offending will largely depend on the greater acceptance and trust from employers to give young people a second chance at life. 

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