Category: Children in custody

Joint call for safe release of child prisoners

Earlier this month, Article 39 and others wrote to Justice Secretary Robert Buckland QC MP urging the release of children from prison wherever possible.

Carolyne Willow, Article 39’s Director, said:

“Children need to be with their families or in care settings where their health and well-being can be secured and their fears and questions answered. It’s unconscionable that in a global pandemic a civilised society would keep hundreds of children incarcerated in institutions which in normal times are unable to keep them properly fed, safe and occupied. But this is not just about protecting children from serious harm; we’re also extremely worried about the risks to prison staff, their families and the wider community. These exceptional times demand standout political leadership across all parts of government: children who can be safely looked after in the community must be released.”

The Independent newspaper reported our joint letter here.

No reduction in use of prison custody for children

Statistics released by the Ministry of Justice and the Youth Justice Board over the Easter break show 9 out of 10 children in custody continue to be held in prison environments.

Data for 2016/17 shows 89% of children remanded or held in custody after sentencing were placed in either young offender institutions (YOIs) or secure training centres (STCs). This is the same proportion as last year. Both types of accommodation are modelled on adult prisons.

Of 863 children detained under criminal justice orders in February 2017, 609 were held in YOIs and 155 in STCs. Just 99 children were held in child-centred secure children’s homes run by local authorites or the voluntary sector.

Back in February, the Youth Custody Improvement Board recommended “a very clearly different approach to the current YOIs” and commented on the “appalling situation at Medway” STC – a reference to serious child abuse uncovered by BBC Panorama in the then G4S-run child prison.

Along with many other organisations, Article 39 believes children should only ever be detained in childcare environments, where staff are fully trained and supported to provide therapeutic care to the very small number who cannot be safely supported in the community. We believe the secure children’s home model provides the best basis from which to develop world-standard specialist secure provision.

We are deeply disappointed that the Government recently used the Children and Social Work Bill to change the law to allow children from England and Wales to be detained on welfare grounds in Scotland. We strongly lobbied against this change because it arose from dwindling provision rather than a strategic analysis of children’s needs and best interests. Once the Bill receives Royal Assent, looked after children detained on welfare grounds in Scotland will lose their right to consent to placements outside England and Wales. Independent reviews have also been removed from these children.

Reliance on resources in Scotland for ‘welfare detention’ will inevitably threaten the viability of secure children’s homes generally. There has already been a 21% reduction in secure accommodation places in England across the past six years, from 293 in 2010 to 232 in 2016. Conversely, the Scottish Government has stated that the detention of children from England and Wales in Scotland will assist the financial viability of provision there, noting “The withdrawal of English placements would lead to a loss of income to one or more of the Scottish units, with the possibility it would force at least one provider into an early and unplanned closure”.

Ministry of Justice predicts no decrease in child prisoner numbers

Unless there are changes in law and/or government policy, the Ministry of Justice predicts there will be 700 boys incarcerated in young offender institutions every year between 2016 and 2020. Latest data shows there were 682 boys in young offender institutions in September 2015.

The official predictions mean England will continue to be one of the leading child incarcerators in the Western world. In 2013, the annual Council of Europe survey of prison populations in 47 member states found England and Wales was surpassed by only two countries, Russia and Turkey, in the number of children we imprison.

The annual prison population projections also predict girls will continue to be held in other settings, and that the number of female inmates aged 18-20 years will reduce by halve between 2016 and 2020 (from 200 to 100). No change is anticipated for males in this age group.

Read the official predictions here.

16 year-olds can be placed in secure accommodation

The High Court has confirmed that a 16 or 17 year-old who is being looked after by a local authority under Section 20(3) of the Children Act 1989 can, in principle, be admitted to secure accommodation.

Section 20(3) places a duty on local authorities to accommodate a child who has reached the age of 16 and whose welfare would be seriously prejudiced without such accommodation. The 1989 Act defines a child as a person under the age of 18.

Regulations relating to secure accommodation – children’s homes which deprive children in care of their liberty – specify that this kind of provision cannot be used with children and young people aged between 16 and 21 years, who have been placed in a children’s home as a means of safeguarding or promoting their welfare. However, this relates to Section 20(5) of the 1989 Act, which gives local authorities discretionary powers to accommodate young people into early adulthood.

The case before the High Court concerned a 16 year-old who was at that time detained in a mental health setting due to severe self-harm. The local authority sought clarification of their legal power to apply for a secure accommodation order once she was released from hospital, given she was now aged 16. The girl had been accommodated by the local authority since the age of 14.

Judge Bellamy said local authorities would be permitted to apply for a secure accommodation order in respect of 16 and 17 year-olds looked after under Section 20(3). So once the girl is released from hospital, the local authority can seek to place her in a secure children’s home.

There were 82 children held in secure accommodation on welfare grounds in England and Wales on 31 March 2015.

Read the judgment here.

Youth justice review to include safeguarding in custody

The terms of reference of the youth justice review established by Justice Secretary Michael Gove have been published. Arrangements to safeguard young people, and manage behaviour, are listed as areas to be considered. The Justice Secretary announced the review last week, on 11 September, explaining:

“We need to consider whether the current system, which was created in 2000, remains able to meet the challenges we face in 2015.”

Since 2000, 17 children have died in young offender institutions and secure training centres in England. In 2012, the High Court found that secure training centres run by G4S and Serco had probably been unlawfully restraining children for at least a decade. Back in 2006, the Carlile Inquiry made 45 recommendations in respect of the use of physical restraint, solitary confinement and forcible strip searching of children in custody. International human rights bodies have issued many recommendations in respect of protecting children’s rights in custody, the latest being the UN Committee Against Torture’s 2013 call for a ban on the infliction of pain as a form of restraint. The Youth Justice Board, the statutory body charged with placing children in custodial establishments, has undertaken a number of reviews relating to child safeguarding. Earlier this year, parliament’s human rights select committee said it remains “very concerned about the use of force in custody” and urged the government to “revisit the methods of restraint which can be employed”.

Article 39 will make a submission to this latest review, drawing together the principal messages from inspections and investigations that have taken place across the past 15 years. As well as welcoming the explicit reference to child safeguarding in custody, we are pleased the review is to examine international research studies. However, the exclusion of any consideration of the age of criminal responsibility could impede analysis and learning from child-centred systems, across the UK and internationally, depending on how rigid a process the review follows.

Former headteacher Charlie Taylor will lead the review. His report is due in the summer of 2016, some months after the UK’s next examination by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. After each of its three previous examinations, in 1995, 2002 and 2008, the Committee has urged the UK to increase the age of criminal responsibility, which is 10 in England and Wales.