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The Challenges of Wetherby Young Offenders Institution

Catherine Porter delivered the first in our series of talks about aspects of the Judicial system with a “no holds barred” account of Wetherby and the challenges it and the judicial system face. Catherine has many years’ experience of Wetherby and is currently the Chair of the Independent Monitoring Board at Wetherby.

Wetherby is a Young Offenders Institution which provides for around 160 young offenders (mainly boys) aged 15 to 18. About 2/3rds are sentenced and the remainder are on Remand for offences including murder, violence / robbery and sexual offences. A wide variety of services are provided for them involving numerous agencies including counselling, education, mental health and many more. She praised the dedication of many of the staff who worked there but said that the recruitment and retention of staff was difficult and job descriptions often did not equate with the roles staff found themselves carrying out. The behaviour of many of the most challenging young people can be extreme inevitably leading some staff to question why they worked there. Time out of rooms is poor and being locked up for long periods inevitably impacted upon behaviour.

As is common in other institutions, some offenders felt that they were safer and had a better quality of life there than in the outside world and did not want to be released.

Her account led many of us to wonder if the justice system as currently provided stood any chance of addressing both behaviour and the causes of that behaviour. Was it merely acting as a method of keeping them away from society until they were released, often to reoffend?

It was not all “doom and gloom” however and Catherine spoke about some of her interactions with offenders which caused us to smile. We were also told about a Barbering facility in Leeds which provided some skills and experience potentially useful for a post-imprisonment life.

Hearing Catherine talk gave us a remarkable insight into a world which few if any of us will have experienced.

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