Sixty second interview with Hilton Dawson MP
Hilton Dawson MP has launched a campaign to highlight child deaths in custody and called on youth justice organisations to lobby parliamentary candidates on the issue. He is also planning to table an early day motion to get MPs support.
What do you hope to achieve through the campaign you have launched?
I really want to achieve a fundamental change in the law relating to young people in trouble. I want to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 16 to ensure that young people are dealt with as children within the remit of the Children Act rather than the criminal justice legislation.
The fundamental thing is to decriminalise young people and where young people are misbehaving or indulging in problematic behaviour we need to deal with them as children rather than as young offenders.
I would also like to see a high reduction in children going into custody.
Why do you think so many children are committing suicide in custody?
There has been two deaths a year for the past eight years which is a scandalous statistic. Youth treatment centres (Young Offender Institutions) are inherently unsafe places for vulnerable young people.
What do you think of the Youth Justice Board’s decision to increase the number of beds it buys in secure training centres and decrease its number of beds in local authority secure children’s homes?
I think it’s an outrage that at a time when the number of young people being locked up has been soaring that the Youth Justice Board has reduced the funding and closed many places in local authority secure accommodation (local authority secure children’s homes) where we know that children can be kept safe because their policies run on the principles of the Children Act.
How would you improve the youth justice system?
I would take all the resources away from the YJB and put them into the children’s [services] system, into improving services at a local level and improving the care system.
Do you think that social workers in the community are punished a lot more harshly if a child dies at the hands of parents or carers than professionals who are responsible for children in custody?
Contrast the Victoria Climbie Inquiry, which was absolutely right and proper, with the government’s refusal to hold a public inquiry into the death of Joseph Scholes. Who holds the magistrates and the judge to account when they send young vulnerable children to prison?
Do you feel that the Children Act 1989 is being adhered to regarding children in prison following the 2002 Howard League judgment that children in prison should be protected in the same way as children in the community?
We are seeing more advocacy and more child protection workers going into YOIs. It doesn’t address the staff to children ratio or the physical qualities of the prison’s surroundings. We need to have children living in child-centred establishments.