Care standards at Juvenile Justice Centre praised but challenges remain

Woodlands Juvenile Justice Centre (the JJC) has been praised for the high standard of care it provides to children held in custody in Northern Ireland.

Inspectors from Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland (CJI) found a child centred ethos in place at the JJC and reported that good progress had been made towards implementing four strategic recommendations for improvement made in 2015.
“The JJC is without doubt, the jewel in the crown for the Youth Justice Agency (YJA) and Department of Justice (DoJ) and is a centre which is the envy of neighbouring jurisdictions.  It is a facility which has made steady progress despite funding and staffing reductions which have occurred,” said Brendan McGuigan, Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland.
“With the development of early intervention and diversionary programmes there are now fewer children entering the criminal justice system. But for those young people who are required to be detained in a secure setting, the JJC provides an effective means of keeping them safe while delivering a progressive, child-centred regime,” said Mr McGuigan.
The inspection identified the majority of the children admitted to the JJC were 16 to 17-year-old boys from a Catholic background, many of who were admitted to the Bangor facility multiple times.
“While the JJC does not have control over the children who are sent there, it was concerning that 76% of children admitted to the centre in 2016-17 were from a Catholic background – an increase of 19% compared to the figures in 2013-14.
“Inspectors believe it is important for the JJC management to understand the reasons for this disparity, and would encourage them to work with other statutory agencies including the police, prosecution and court services, to seek to understand why this is happening and how it can be addressed,” said Mr McGuigan.
The Chief Inspector also expressed concern at the rise in the number of children admitted on a short-term basis to the JJC, both under Police and Criminal Evidence (PACE) proceedings and from a ‘Looked After’ residential care background, compared to three years ago.
“In 2015 we called for the YJA to work with its statutory partners to reduce the number of children being inappropriately committed to custody in this manner.
“Yet this inspection found the JJC was still being used in this way.  This situation must be addressed, particularly as 50% of children admitted to custody under PACE proceedings were released within 24 hours,” said Mr McGuigan.
In light of this challenge and the JJC’s substantial annual running costs of around £8m. per year, Inspectors have recommended the YJA, the DoJ, and other Government Departments including Health, should work together to create closer alignment between the JJC and the neighbouring Lakewood Secure Care Centre, as proposed in the Review of Secure Care and Regional Specialist Children’s Services.
“Greater alignment could lead to further improvements in the care provided to the children and create an opportunity to share costs and secure better value for money as there are significant similarities between the two facilities in terms of their current population, staffing levels and high costs,” said Mr McGuigan.
Reflecting on the education and healthcare provision currently available at the Bangor facility, Mr McGuigan said improvements had been made.
“In 2015 Inspectors found the standard of education provision had fallen and we recommended management should take steps to improve clinical leadership, governance and the quality of nursing,” he said.
“Education Inspectors welcomed the transfer of education provision at the JJC to the Education Authority in September 2017. However, as industrial action involving teaching staff was ongoing at the time of this inspection, a full evaluation of the education and training provision could not be undertaken,” said the Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice.
In relation to healthcare, Mr McGuigan said JJC management had put in place its own arrangements for effective healthcare provision after it was unable to transfer healthcare provision to one of Northern Ireland’s Health and Social Care Trusts.
“This move resulted in considerable improvements in the healthcare provided to children at the JJC and the clinical governance arrangements in place, but as it does not offer a long-term solution. Healthcare Inspectors would encourage the JJC management team to seek to progress this transfer alongside a number of other operational recommendations,” he said.
In conclusion, Mr McGuigan said it was imperative the progress achieved over the last 10 years in Northern Ireland’s child custody provision be maintained, so that the needs of difficult, challenging children continued to be met in the most appropriate manner now and in the future.