Behind the headlines

Hailed as a victory for children’s rights, the High Court’s
decision to extend the provisions of the Children Act 1989 to young
offenders institutions has been welcomed. The bullying and
isolation which often affect children in YOIs have been well
documented, not least in a succession of reports from the Prisons
Inspectorate, and the court’s judgement has made it difficult for
the prison service to avoid confronting the problem.

The case, brought by the Howard League for Penal Reform,
challenged the Home Office’s policy of insisting on the immunity of
YOIs from the Children Act. The Howard League said the segregation
and physical restraint inflicted under harsh YOI regimes were
contributing to high levels of self-harm and suicide. Looming ahead
is the problem of how to implement the Children Act in YOIs, given
that the former is the responsibility of local authorities while
the latter come under the remit of the prison service. It is one
thing to give social care professionals a role in YOI regimes, but
a cultural change in YOIs may turn out to be quite another.   

Bill Badham, development officer, National Youth

“Respect to the Howard League! This great victory for children and
young people in prison is an inspiration and a major endorsement of
the Human Rights Act – our constitution – as an instrument to
secure the protection and provision for the UK’s young and most
vulnerable citizens. So social services have a statutory duty to
safeguard children’s welfare in prison, but the Prison Service
doesn’t. The Children Act 1989 needs urgent amendment to redress
this. Next stop: the ban on smacking?”

Karen Squillino, senior practitioner,

“I had been unaware that the Children Act did not formally apply to
children in penal institutions. This has made me question my
practice as I worked with under-18s who were ‘locked up’ for a
number of years and assumed that they were afforded the same
rights. I am angry but not surprised at another example of
draconian penal policy. It highlights the fact that contemporary
ideology is one that is underpinned by the notion that young people
who commit crime are in the ‘undeserving’ category in society.”

Martin Green, chief executive, Counsel and Care for the

“I welcome the High Court ruling that children under 18 in young
offenders institutions will receive the protection of the Children
Act. This seems such a clear and obvious position that I wonder why
the government had to go through the expensive process of defending
the contrary view all the way up to the High Court. The decision
will have implications for social services and there will have to
be recognition of this within their budgets. This case is sure to
lead to a number of claims which will further serve to switch
resources away from providing direct services. It would have been
better for the government to have acknowledged this position
without it having to go to court.”

Bob Hudson, principal research fellow, Nuffield
Institute for Health, University of Leeds

“The prison regime has long been recognised as a breeding ground
for further criminality rather than a locus of treatment. If we
write off young people as beyond redemption, there should be little
surprise at the resulting high levels of recidivism. The High Court
ruling makes rehabilitation just a little bit more likely, but what
we need is to reduce the high rate of institutionalisation in the
first place.”

Julia Ross, executive director for health and social
care, London Borough of Barking and Dagenham

“I’m pleased to have such a strong message about meeting the needs
of vulnerable children. It is odd that as a society we leap readily
into punishment mode and treat the victim as perpetrator,
forgetting what has brought them there. We’re still ambivalent
about this and I hope this judgement will help us in the welfare
and justice system to think again – but perhaps more importantly
help the communities we serve.”

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