Inquest launched its new book, In the Care of the State? this week. One of its authors Deborah Coles, co-director of Inquest speaks to Amy Taylor.
Your book calls for a comprehensive review of child deaths in penal custody. Why is this required?
Because there has been 28 deaths since 1990 of children in custody but there has never been a public inquiry into such deaths. Such an inquiry could make statutory recommendations. When a looked after child dies, there is a big inquiry. When you think about the importance that the Victoria Climbie inquiry, had it’s quite a damming inditement that there has never been such an inquiry into the death of a child who has been in custody of the state.
You also call for a full public inquiry into the death of 16-year-old Joseph Scholes who committed suicide aged 16 at Stoke Heath Young Offenders Institution in 2002.
We particularly want an inquiry into Joseph’s death, but such an inquiry would encompass the other deaths before and afterwards.
Why did you decide to publish the book?
Our work on Joseph’s case had raised continuing concerns about the care of the state and then we had the death of Gareth Myatt. Myatt died aged 15 in Rainsbrook Secure Training Centre in Northampton after being restrained by three members of staff.The time was right to do an analysis of child deaths.
In your book you call for the abolition of prison custody for children. Why do you think this is needed?
Because it is a grossly inappropriate way to deal with some of the most vulnerable disadvantaged people in society. More community based alternatives that are child centred should happen instead.
You also recommend that the government creates an independent ‘Standing Commission on Custodial Deaths’. What would that entail and why is it needed?
Because what happens when these deaths are investigated? There is an inquest but this happens a year or two years after the death so the death is seen in isolation. The findings of those deaths are not collated.
In the Care of the State? By Deborah Cole and Dr Barry Goldson. More information available from www.inquest.org.uk