Children held in prison custody are to be protected by the
Children Act 1989, the high court ruled on Friday,
writes Clare Jerrom.
The Howard League for Penal Reform brought the action to
challenge the home office policy that the Children Act did “not
apply to under 18s in prison establishments”.
“This is a first step in achieving a universal standard of care
for all children in custody regardless of where they are held,”
said Fran Russell, head of the charity’s youth justice law
However, she warned that the Children Act now needs to be
amended urgently. Under the law as it now stands, the Children Act
does not confer any duties directly on the prison service, so
social services has a statutory duty to safeguard the welfare of
children in prison, but the prison service does not.
Mr Justice Munby said the Howard League had “performed a most
useful service in bringing to the public attention matters which,
on the face of it, ought to shock the conscience of every
In practice, it is likely to result in more child protection
investigations in prisons, according to the league.
There would also be a greater involvement of social services in
assessing the needs of the most vulnerable children and in helping
to meet those needs.
Russell said: “Not only will social services be more involved,
but it is sending out the message that children in prison are
deserving of the same protection and care as those out of
Meanwhile, statistics from the Howard League show that thirty
three prisons holding children are suffering from overcrowding.
Eighty seven of the total of 144 prisons are congested, and
overcrowding is so acute in jails that 215 offenders are being held
in police cells, 24 of those are aged under 21.
Frances Crook, the charity’s director, said: “There were 72,315
men, women and children in prison at the end of September, almost
double the population of 10 years ago.”
England’s chief inspector of social services Denise Platt,
who was guest speaker at the league’s AGM, said “it was a
matter of real distress” that children are held in adult
She also said multi-disciplinary inspections of youth offending
teams would be a good idea, and ministers are in favour of
inspections every three years.