Frances Crook, the Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, has today (12 February) written to the Cabinet Secretary seeking his assurance that no contracts for secure colleges will be signed this close to the general election. Crook lists some of the many organisations opposing the plans, noting ‘The Ministry of Justice has been unable to find the support of any individual or expert organisations for the proposals’.
The Criminal Justice and Courts Bill is due to receive Royal Assent today. It establishes a new type of child prison, the ‘secure college’. The first is planned to be built on the grounds of Glen Parva, an adult prison in Leicestershire. It will hold 320 children, making it one of the largest child prisons in Europe.
Preparations for the new East Midlands prison go back several years, to the last Labour government, though originally it was to hold 360 boys aged 15 to 17 and it would have been called a ‘young offender institution’ like other prisons for children and young adults. The ‘secure college’ branding came with the announcement that children as young as 12, and both boys and girls, would be detained in the Leicestershire prison.
The Labour Party opposed the controversial plans as the Bill went through Parliament. Strong opposition in the Lords, led by the cross-bencher and former chief inspector of prisons Lord David Ramsbotham, resulted in a government concession that girls and children aged 14 and under would not be imprisoned in any secure college without the express agreement of both the Commons and the Lords at some future date.
Peers failed to remove provisions in the Bill empowering custody officers to use force on children to ensure good order and discipline. Similar powers given to officers in G4S and Serco secure training centres were quashed by the Court of Appeal in 2008 as they were deemed unnecessary and a breach of children’s human dignity.
Read Crook’s letter here.