We need to end child imprisonment. Here's why.

Roger Grimshaw
Thursday, 28 October 2021

With the participation of the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, the End Child Imprisonment coalition brings together a range of organisations and experts, which provide and spread information in order to impact positively on current policy.

The guiding principles of the coalition’s work derive from the international Convention on the Rights of the Child which puts the child’s interests at the fore. 

The great majority of children in custody have been placed in young offender institutions and secure training centres.  In 2017 the Youth Custody Improvement Board and the Youth Justice Board agreed that these institutions were not fit for purpose. In 2016 the government indicated that they should close, to be replaced by so-called secure schools, yet progress towards their closure remains stalled. 

Worrying features of child imprisonment regimes are multiple but among the most concerning have been the frequency of painful restraint, the use of segregation and confinement, and the numbers of sexual abuse allegations. The population of the estate is disproportionately drawn from Black, Asian and other minority ethnic communities. 

As the Convention implies, the few children who present a serious risk to themselves or others should benefit from caring environments which resemble the best practice in local authority secure children’s homes. 

The legislation on so-called Secure Schools leaves several important questions to be addressed. If these establishments are to be treated as ‘academies’, local authorities will be prevented from bidding to run them. The number of places envisaged in the pilot, at over 60, is far higher than would be normal in a secure children’s home. Moreover, the choice of pilot site, in the former Medway Secure Training Centre, revives fears of the abuse that was shown to exist in that centre.  

The state of youth justice is fragile and concerning. The Alliance for Youth Justice has produced a significant report on the impact of the pandemic restrictions. The digital divide has been an obstacle to communication with children and families. Anyone expecting that young people in detention may somehow have been relieved of the strains imposed on adults should think again. The report states:

The majority of children in penal establishments have been subjected to awful conditions for months on end, deprived of education, visits and contact, and amounting to solitary confinement.

It is clear that speaking with a unified voice can help to avoid duplication and amplify the message. As long as youth prisons in some form remain, there will be a place for combining efforts to make a stronger case for real change. 

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