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More details needed on 'super prisons' for young people, say teaching unions

17 October 2014

UCU and the National Union of Teachers express concerns about plans to house hundreds of young offenders in secure colleges, dubbed 'super prisons', in England.

The proposed secure colleges would cater for hundreds of young people in detention, replacing existing young offenders' institutions, secure training centres and children's homes. Plans are already under way for an initial college which would hold 320 boys and girls aged 12-18 at an estimated cost of £85m.

UCU, which represents prison education staff, and the National Union of Teachers (NUT) criticised the lack of details for the secure colleges, which form part of the Criminal Justice and Courts bill due to be debated in the House of Lords on Monday (20 October).

Although the unions welcomed the consultation on Secure College Rules, published yesterday, they said they were disappointed by the lack of questions on education. They argue much more detail is needed on how educational standards would be developed, including information on student to staff ratios.

The unions said that a focus on rehabilitation and education is key to helping young people turn their lives around and not reoffend. They warned that housing such large numbers of young offenders on a single site raised a number of safeguarding issues.

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: 'Putting large numbers of vulnerable young offenders in together would be bad for young people, bad for justice and bad for taxpayers. We are deeply concerned about the effect that this warehousing approach will have on education, which is key to reducing reoffending. Education, not cost-saving, must be the driving force behind any proposals to reform youth custody.'

NUT general secretary, Christine Blower, said: 'All young people in the youth justice and youth offending system need access to qualified teachers. We know many young offenders need individual tailored support with literacy and numeracy- it is never too late for teachers to widen young people's horizons offering the possibility of more positive choices in future.

'Many questions are raised about these secure colleges. Many of these young people have complex social and emotional needs and require support from the right range of agencies and professionals. Proposals for vast secure colleges take no account of this.'

Last updated: 10 December 2015