Abuse allegations in child prisons

April’s issue of Independent Monitor, the publication of the Association of Members of Independent Monitoring Boards, includes a review by Article 39’s Director of monitoring in child prisons, and the action taken in response to abuse allegations.

The article includes some results from Article 39’s FOI research on abuse allegations in institutional settings, and local authorities’ responses to these. We particularly sought to elicit how many abuse allegations result in a Section 47 enquiry by local authorities: this is the part of the Children Act 1989 requiring investigations of significant harm and, crucially, it states the child’s wishes and feelings must be given due consideration.

Back in 2002, the Howard League for Penal Reform won a successful legal challenge confirming local authorities have a duty to investigate significant harm in prisons, just as they do in families.

Only three of six local authorities with child prisons in their area provided Article 39 with information in response to our freedom of information request. Of these:

  • One had data for a period lasting less than seven months in 2014/15 and indicated there had been 25 child protection allegations in that time. The local authority was unable to offer data on Section 47 enquiries or outcomes, incorrectly stating that it would be the ‘home’ local authority of the child which would undertake these (the duty applies to the local authority in which the institution is located).
  • Another local authority said there were 82 allegations across the three years, with only 28 of these cases subject to a Section 47 enquiry. All 82 allegations were found to be unsubstantiated.
  • The third local authority reported 86 allegations, with 33 subject to a Section 47 enquiry, and nine substantiated; 10 members of staff were disciplined as a consequence.

Article 39’s Director, Carolyne Willow, says:

“At the very least, our research rings louder alarm bells about the capacity of the child protection system to properly investigate and monitor abuse allegations in custody. However, children being ignored, disbelieved and left in unsafe environments is the worst fear”.

In December 2015, the Youth Justice Board published its first annual safeguarding report. This did not include any data about abuse allegations in custody, and the responses of statutory agencies.