Staying Safe

Young people and custody

Police tape

If you are under 18 and sent to custody you will be treated very differently from adults. You will be given help with education, training, and improving your behaviour. On this page you can find out where you can be sent to custody and what it will be like.

Why young people are sent to custody

If you are found guilty of a crime, you could be given a sentence that means you are locked up - a ‘custodial’ sentence. The court can give you this kind of sentence if:

  • your crime is so serious there is no other suitable option
  • you have committed crimes before
  • the judge or magistrate thinks you are a risk to the public

What happens when you are sent to custody

When you are given a custodial sentence, you won’t be sent to an adult prison, but to a special secure centre for young people.

Types of custody for young people

There are three types of custody for young people:

  • young offender institutions
  • secure training centres
  • secure children’s homes

How the decision is made about where you are sent

Where you are placed in custody will depend on your age, sex, individual needs and where you live.

You will be sent to a secure centre that:

  • can manage your needs safely (for instance, if you have a history of drug use, or if you have been in custody before and found it difficult)
  • is suitable for your age
  • is as near to your home as possible

An organisation called the Youth Justice Board decides where you will go. They make this decision based on information given to them by the youth offending team and other youth justice workers.

What custody is like for young people

While in custody you will spend time in classes learning skills to get a job or to return to education. There is also time for sport, fitness, and other activities, including programmes to improve your behaviour.

There are very strict rules about what you can and can't do, and you may have to go through alcohol or drug counselling.

What it’s like in a young offender institution

Young offender institutions are run by the Prison Service and by private companies. They hold 15 to 21-year-olds, but those under 18 are held in different buildings from those over 18. Some share a site with an adult prison, and some are by themselves.

They vary in size, some holding around 60 people while others house more than 400. However, most of them are big places, split into ‘wings’ that hold between 30 and 60 young people.

You will receive up to 25 hours of education, skills and other activities every week, which include programmes looking at improving your behaviour.

Staff in a young offender institution won’t be able to give you much individual support, as there will generally be one member of staff for every ten young people.

What it’s like in a secure training centre

These centres hold young people up to the age of 17, and are run by private companies. They hold between 50 and 80 young people, and are split into units. Each unit will have between five and eight people in it.

If you are in a secure training centre you will get up to 30 hours of education and training every week, following a school day timetable.

You’ll get more individual support in a secure training centre than a young offender institution, as generally there will be three members of staff for every eight young people.

What it’s like in a secure children's home

Secure children’s homes are for the youngest offenders (aged between ten and 14), and those who may have been in care or have mental health problems. They are run by local councils.

Like in a secure training centre, you will go to classes following a school day timetable.

Homes are smaller than both young offender institutions and secure training centres, varying in size between eight and 40 people.

You will get a lot of individual attention and support, as generally there is one member of staff for every two young people.

Further information

If you're facing a custodial sentence, or would like to know more about young people in custody, the Youth Justice Board may be able to give you further information or advice. 

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