Protecting children in care from prosecution and punishment

Article 39’s submission to Lord Laming’s independent review into looked after children in the criminal justice system stresses the importance of protecting children from the known harms of the criminal justice system, including being labelled and publicly identified as a criminal, increased contact with more experienced offenders, detention in abusive penal institutions and restrictions on future employment. We argue that meeting children’s needs, and upholding their rights, together with ensuring their long-term care and prospects are secure, are key factors in reducing children in care’s involvement with the criminal justice system.

The Prison Reform Trust launched the independent review in June 2015, “to consider why looked after children are more likely than other children in England and Wales to get involved with the criminal justice system, and what can be done to help more children in care stay out of trouble”.

Last week the media reported the case of a 15 year-old vulnerable boy who was prosecuted for burglary after entering a locked room through an open window in his children’s home, and taking a box of ASDA choc ices from the staff fridge. The boy apparently ate one of the ice creams. Magistrates dismissed the case after the boy’s lawyer, Jason La Corbiniere, successfully argued that this was the child’s home. Corbiniere later told a journalist: “Can you imagine the state prosecuting your child for not asking can he have an ice cream from the freezer?”.

Crown Prosecution Service guidance in relation to children in care states, “The police are more likely to be called to a children’s home than a domestic setting to deal with an incident of offending behaviour by an adolescent. Specialists should bear this in mind when dealing with incidents that take place in a children’s home”.