Young Offender Institutions

What is a Young Offender Institution?

Young Offender Institutions (YOIs) are prisons for 15-21 year olds. They are run by the Prison Service as part of the prison estate as a whole.

YOIs are distinct from Secure Training Centres and Local Authority Secure Children’s Homes, which focus on different types of youth offenders and therefore have different staffing and accommodation specifications.

The core distinction is that Young Offender Institutions have a lower staff to offender ratio, reflecting the focus of these institutions on incarceration as opposed to rehabilitation and care. YOIs are also generally larger. Perhaps the best-known YOI in England is Feltham in west London.

Young offender wings also exist within adult prisons.


Young Offender Institutions were introduced under the Criminal Justice Act 1988, but special centres for young offenders have existed since the 19th century.

The idea originated with the Gladstone Committee in 1895 as an attempt to reform young offenders. The first institution was opened in 1902 at Borstal Prison in Kent – and the name ‘borstal’ has become synonymous with the system.

The ‘Borstal Philosophy’ was based on the regimes of late 19th century and early 20th century public schools, advocating military-style discipline (including widespread corporal punishment) and emphasising work training and skills acquisition.

The Criminal Justice Act 1982 abolished the borstal system, replacing it with a network of youth custody centres.

Young Offender Institutions are today regulated by the Young Offender Institution Rules 2000, which are effectively the equivalent of the Prison Rules 1999 that apply to adult prisons in the UK.

In December 2007 a pilot scheme was launched which aimed to stop first-time young offenders going to court unnecessarily and prevent them from re-offending. Under the Youth Restorative Disposal (YRD) scheme, first-time offenders aged between 10 and 17 who had committed a low-level minor offence would have to explain their actions and apologise to their victim. The apology could be given in either oral or written form.

It was suggested the scheme would enable police to deal with minor cases more speedily and efficiently, allowing them to concentrate on more serious crime. The pilot, which was set to end in 2009, was to be followed by an evaluation to decide whether it should be rolled out nationally.

In December 2010 the Coalition government published a Green Paper entitled ‘Breaking the cycle: A public consultation on effective punishment, rehabilitation and sentencing of offenders.’ The paper sets out how the Ministry of Justice proposes to “break the destructive cycle of crime” and ensure offenders make amends to the victims or communities for harm they have caused. The consultation on the paper’s proposal closed in March 2011.

In its response published in June 2011, the Government stated that within the youth justice system it would end the current high level of central performance monitoring and develop a risk based monitoring programme centred on three key outcomes:

reducing the number of first time entrants to the youth justice system;
reducing reoffending;
and reducing custody numbers.

The Public Bodies Act provided for the functions of the Youth Justice Board to be transferred to a newly created Youth Justice Division in the Ministry of Justice.

Youth justice services would in future be locally determined and driven; they would maximise value for money, be publicly accountable through a Minister, and be lighter-touch. Underperforming Youth Offending Teams would be targeted, freeing up the best performing teams to provide greater opportunity to innovate.