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T2A Chair, Leroy Logan, blogs about the relevance and importance of Spark Inside’s new report, Being Well, Being Equal. This blog was initially posted on the T2A website.

“I was quite positive when I went inside and I think the system strips you of that. And once it has been stripped you then have the issue of well, trying to get that back and they are not putting support in place to rebuild that.” (Young adult, Being Well Being Equal Report)

When we see young adults in the criminal justice system solely as people to be punished, we deny them the opportunity to forge a better future. We rob them of their full potential. If we don’t rehabilitate young adults at this crucial juncture in their development, the desistance process becomes much more complex after the age of 25 due to the “scarring effect” of “new adversities which are emergent in adulthood” (University of Edinburgh Study March 2022).

Prisons should focus on the rehabilitation of every individual. Young adults who are given the chance to grow, develop and realise their potential during their time in prison are less likely to reoffend – and more likely to positively contribute to society.  This is exemplified in a new report from Spark Inside. Its detailed paper Being Well, Being Equal contains a comprehensive list of recommendations on how we can prioritise the wellbeing of young men, and particularly young Black men in the criminal justice system. Spark Inside’s recommendations could not be more timely when we consider the scale of the challenges young adults face.

A 2021 thematic report from HM Chief Inspector of Prisons (HMIP) on the outcomes of young adults in custody stated: “if action is not taken, outcomes for this group and society will remain poor for the next decade and beyond.” The December 2022 HMIP thematic review into the experiences of adult black male prisoners and black prison staff found that lack of trust in prison staff was a significant barrier to asking for support.

“Prisoners generally had low expectations of the help that they might be given if they needed support; some gave examples of times when they or friends had sought support and not received it, and others did not feel that staff had the cultural sensitivity, expertise or experience to help them, and therefore did not want to ask for help.” (HMIP, 2022)

This places young Black men in the criminal justice system in an incredibly vulnerable position – one where they feel unable to seek help from the very people who have a duty of care to keep them safe.

The evidence is clear. We must act now. But where to start? Spark Inside believes we need to listen to the voices and experiences of young adults and the organisations that advocate on their behalf. Involving Black-led and Black specialist organisations in the development of wellbeing strategies will lead to greater engagement and trust on both sides – creating an approach to young Black men’s mental health and wellbeing that considers their distinct needs.

Empowering young adults to play a role in shaping policy and practice is also key. Being able to actively participate in matters that have a huge impact on their lives will boost their self-confidence, self-esteem, sense of agency, and wellbeing. Spark Inside have rightly identified that training and coaching will be vital to see through the report’s recommendations.

Many prison and probation officers want to do more to support young adults, but they don’t have the resources, time or support. HMPPS ringfencing time for staff to receive specialist training will help them understand how to effectively meet the needs of young adults – leading to more open and positive relationships. It will also help people working across the prison estate to explore and challenge discriminatory attitudes towards young adults, particularly young Black adults.

Right now, with organisations like Spark Inside working directly with young adults, we have a chance to create a criminal justice system that focuses on rehabilitation rather than punishment. A system where young adults can gain the skills and confidence they need to thrive. A system where every young adult can unlock their full potential. But we need to grab this chance with both hands if we are to ever make it a reality.


 Lorraine Atkinson, senior policy officer at the Howard League for Penal Reform, reflects on the work of the Commission on Sex in Prison.


The Commission on Sex in Prison was established by the Howard League for Penal Reform to conduct the first ever inquiry into sex in prisons in England and Wales. It was funded by the Barrow Cadbury Trust, Esmee Fairbairn and the Bromley Trust, and has spent the past two years investigating consensual and coercive sex in prison and the healthy sexual development of children in prison.


As the work of the Commission draws to a close with a national conference in London on 17 March, it is fitting to reflect on the findings of the Commission and its achievements in raising awareness of this difficult and at times controversial issue.


When the Commission began its work in 2013 it found that there had been very few studies on consensual or coercive sex in prisons. The Prison and Probation Ombudsman was one of the first people to give evidence to the Commission and described it as a ‘hidden issue in a hidden world’. The Commission has helped to raise awareness of sex in prison and prompted people to reflect on prison policies and practices.


It highlighted the public health implications of preventing prisoners from obtaining condoms in confidence. Prisoners are a high risk group for sexually transmitted infections and the public health agenda must be the paramount consideration in prison policies relating to consensual sex. Punishing prisoners for having sex may deter them from obtaining condoms or sexual health advice.


It looked at the different experiences of women in prison, who are particularly vulnerable and sometimes form relationships with other prisoners to help them cope with the detrimental effects of imprisonment. Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons referred to the issues raised by the Commission in its recently published inspection criteria for women’s prisons, including the need for staff to support women when relationships end and to monitor relationships which might become abusive.


The Commission looked at coercive sex in prison and found it was hidden and under-reported. The Prisons and Probation Ombudsman published a learning lessons bulletin on sexual abuse in prisons expanding on the evidence it had given to the Commission in 2013. The report called for allegations of sexual abuse in prisons to be investigated thoroughly and for staff to identify and challenge abusive relationships in prison. In January 2015, the Ministry of Justice announced it would be publishing an analysis of reported sexual assaults in prison due to ‘public interest in the area’.


The Commission raised concerns about the detrimental impact of prisons on children’s healthy sexual development, at a time when the government is planning to build a huge new prison in Leicestershire for children.


There is still more to be done. The UK government could learn much from the US which passed the Prison Rape Elimination Act in 2003. Anonymous surveys of prisoners are now conducted annually. The data on sexual assaults have galvanised US prisons to do more to prevent abuse.


Research is still needed to determine the nature and scale of unreported abuse in prisons in England and Wales. Prisoners must be entitled to the same support and protection from abuse as people outside of prison. Keeping prisoners safe will keep all of us safe.



Ministry of Justice announcement on sexual assaults analysis


Commission on Sex in Prison website