As Grayling gives his speech, an independent report paints a different picture

Grayling: Report raises issues about young offenders 'lights-out' policy
Grayling: Report raises issues about young offenders 'lights-out' policy
Ian Dunt By

The biggest cheer during Chris Grayling's speech today came when he told Conservative delegates of his 'lights-out' policy. Under his new regime, all young offenders' institutes must switch off the lights and TVs by 10:30pm.

He told delegates:

"We've introduced a 'lights out' in young offender institutions, to give those young people more of a structure and discipline to their day."

It's the type of policy Grayling loves. It sounds like common sense. Why should kids be up all night playing Playstation when they're supposed to be getting accustomed to the straight and narrow?


But when you scratch below the surface of seemingly unarguable policies such as this, you often find the real world is more complicated than that allowed by the easy rhetoric of party conference season.

As Grayling was making his speech, the Independent Monitoring Board’s annual report into young offenders institute Werrington was published on his department's own website. It raised concerns about the lights-out policy.

"The board must also raise concern regarding the new regime which means that all TVs will be turned off at 10.30pm, as professional advice given indicates that many young people use the background noise of the TV to help them get to sleep.

"This we understand has been the norm for many years, and concern must be raised that there is a possibility that distressed young people may react to self-harming during the night, when they have no other distraction, and when there is only one nurse on duty and on lock down."

It will not make a jot of difference, but Grayling is being warned that young people are more likely to self-harm as a result of his policy. It’s not the first warning he's had. Others have highlighted the fear of the dark often felt by children who have faced abuse or trauma. For them, the lights-out policy causes mental anguish.

This is the problem with quick fixes, with replacing thought-out policy with whatever you think will look good in a headline. Once you start to look at the evidence, cracks appear.

There was plenty in the report which challenged the rose-tinted view Grayling painted of his achievements in office.

As the justice secretary praised the performance of prisons under his tenure, the Werrington report was laying out the reality of staff cuts.

"During this period Werrington has been understaffed and officers from other establishments have been required to supplement the staff. If the officers come from another YOI [young offenders institute] they are aware of the regime but officers without YOI experience admit they are 'guessing' and are not able to fulfil all the duties."

The report also contained an implicit warning about Grayling's plans to build a massive child prison in Leicester. This goes against all the evidence of what works best for young offenders and prisoners alike: small, local prisons, where contact with family can be maintained.

"Whilst there is no set pattern of self harm, it can be caused by being located away from family, bad news from home or partner, bullying or the distress of being in custody."

The reality of life in prison or a young offenders' institute never seems to affect Grayling very much. He is motivated more by what is in his head than what is in the world. Independent inspectors are more critical.  Their story is rather different story to the one he told on the stage of the Tory party conference this afternoon.

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