High Court ruling extends Children Act protection to young offenders

The High Court ruled last week that children in young offenders
institutions are entitled to the same welfare safeguards as other

The ruling came after the Howard League for Penal Reform
successfully challenged the Home Office policy that the Children
Act 1989 did “not apply to under-18s in prison

The charity raised concerns that children held in the prison system
were at risk of harm through the use of segregation and physical
restraint by staff and a neglectful regime which contributed to
high levels of self-harm and suicide.

Mr Justice Munby said the Howard League had performed “a most
useful service in bringing to the public attention matters which
ought to shock the conscience of every citizen”.

He warned that if children were subjected to “the degrading,
offensive and totally unacceptable treatment described and
excoriated by the chief inspector”, it could only be a matter of
time before a successful action was brought under the Human Rights
Act 1998.

Head of Howard League’s youth justice law department, Fran Russell,
said: “This is a ground-breaking decision which should mean greater
social services involvement in ensuring children in prison are
treated humanely and that their welfare is safeguarded.

“The hope is that all local authorities will now take positive
steps to set up child protection links with prisons,” Russell said,
adding that local authorities should carry out child protection
investigations, advise prisons, carry out children-in-need
assessments, and meet the needs identified.

Any local authority that fails to fulfil its statutory duty to
young people in prison could face legal action from those who have
been failed.

Co-chairperson of the Association of Directors of Social Services
children and families committee Jane Held said the ADSS was “very
pleased” with the ruling, but called on the Home Office to give
proper and appropriate guidance to staff and to consider the way
services were provided to children in the secure estate.

Held added that local authorities would be happy to work in
partnership with the Home Office and investigate any

But a spokesperson for the Youth Justice Board, which has
responsibility for children in prisons and YOIs, said that the
prison system had always taken as a benchmark the provisions of the
Children Act, and that it was those councils who had viewed
children in prison as outside their responsibility who would be
most affected by the judgement.

The spokesperson said:”The YJB has strived to raise standards in
all areas including child protection, education and health so that
the same protection and care is offered to children in custody as
is offered to children who are not.”

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