Young, troubled and banged up

    Yvonne Scholes lived a 90-minute drive away from the young
    offender institution where her 16-year-old son Joseph was placed
    and it took a while to organise a visit to see him.

    For one thing she had to make arrangements for her younger son
    Jack, who is disabled. In the end, on the morning she and her
    daughter planned to make the trip, Yvonne had just finished making
    their sandwiches when there was a knock at the door. It was the
    police, who told her that four hours earlier her son had hanged
    himself in his cell.

    We feature Yvonne’s story – and that of another mother of a
    troubled youngster. We also highlight figures showing an inexorable
    rise in the number of children and young people in custody as well
    as the shocking statistics on youth deaths in prison.

    The rationale behind the Back on Track youth justice campaign that
    Community Care is launching this week is that the current system
    has gone seriously wrong. Change is urgently needed, and not just
    because vulnerable young people are being damaged, criminalised and
    are having their basic human rights infringed, although that in
    itself is reason enough for action. The fact that about 80 per cent
    of 14-17 year olds released from prison are reconvicted within two
    years is clear evidence that prison isn’t working.

    Over the coming weeks we will be looking at alternatives to custody
    as well as some of the factors that propel children into crime,
    such as exclusion from school or their experience of the care

    We will also be highlighting the often disgraceful conditions
    children are held in, as well as scandals such as the long journeys
    young people are forced to endure, herded into the back of vans
    with no access to food or water – or a toilet – for hours on

    We will be looking at the effect on families when a child is put
    behind bars. There are some disturbing cases, including one mother
    who has had three children hang themselves while in custody. Two
    died while the third’s suicide bid has left him in a persistent
    vegetative state for the last six years.

    Community Care believes that one day people will look back
    with shame at what is done to children who get caught up in the
    criminal justice system. We hope our readers will support our
    campaign to try to bring about change. The mantra about being tough
    on crime and tough on the causes of crime has been at the heart of
    government policy since Labour came to power in 1997 – and the
    focus seems to have been more on children than adults.

    The philosophy that young offenders are often vulnerable children
    has given way to the more crowd-pleasing approach of treating them
    all as yobs. Nowhere is this more apparent than the ease with which
    the phrase “antisocial behaviour” trips off the tongue of both the
    media and the public. Alongside this, the public naming and shaming
    of children has increased, to the extent where some authorities
    have even put up Wild West-style “Wanted” posters.

    This increasingly punitive climate puts us in danger of
    criminalising young people – often before they have actually
    committed an offence. The clearest example of this is antisocial
    behaviour orders (Asbos), which have pushed many vulnerable and
    damaged young people into the arms of the criminal justice system
    rather than the welfare system.

    Geoff Monaghan, chair of the National Association for Youth
    Justice, says: “All the pre-crime prevention and antisocial
    behaviour stuff taken together has resulted in a serious blurring
    of youth justice and welfare definitions. The breach of an ASBO is
    seemingly, but I’m sure wrongly, accepted as so serious that
    nothing other than a custodial sentence is appropriate.”

    Asbos are not controlled by youth offending teams (Yots) but by
    councils, police and housing, which blurs the boundary between
    Yots/criminal justice agencies and welfare/education agencies,
    Monaghan adds. Consequently, the Youth Justice Board (YJB) and Yots
    are taking the lead in areas where many would prefer to see social
    services, education or health setting the agenda. But why has this
    happened? “Social services and other agencies have failed children
    in need who are at risk of offending,” says Monaghan. “And with its
    high political priority and funding levels and Youth Justice Board
    energy, the youth justice system has stepped in – but across a line
    that it shouldn’t have crossed in principle.”

    And although there has been a welcome growth in restorative
    justice, the tension between that and the increase in punitive
    intervention is still much in evidence. The biggest indicator of
    this trend is the fact that there are more young people in custody
    in England and Wales than any other European country. A major
    disappointment for professionals working with young offenders was
    that the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 continued to support locking
    up children as young as 12.

    One criminal justice expert who asked not to be named says: “In the
    past, magistrates were told custody was a damaging experience for
    children, but DTOs [detention and training orders] made magistrates
    more comfortable about using custody. So we saw an expansion in its
    use, when strengthening community provision was the actual

    The YJB’s director of policy Brendan Finegan agrees that the number
    of young people sentenced and remanded to custody needs to be
    reduced. However, he says that while there is more to be done, the
    YJB has reduced the time taken to bring persistent young offenders
    to justice; set up schemes to target children at risk of offending;
    brought in community sentences, intensive supervision and
    surveillance programmes as an alternative to custody; and raised
    standards of care and education in custody.

    “We know there is more to be done,” says Finegan. “Young offenders
    must be able to access the services they are entitled to, such as
    education and mental health, so that we can reduce the likelihood
    of reoffending.”

    Former prime minister John Major once said, when referring to young
    offenders, that we needed to “condemn a little more and understand
    a little less”. Unfortunately, the Labour government has embraced
    that philosophy.

    Youth Justice Board

    The Youth Justice Board was set up under the Crime and Disorder
    Act 1998 to monitor the performance and operation of the entire
    youth justice system. Its primary aim is to prevent offending by
    children and young people under 18. Its statutory duties include
    commissioning and purchasing places in the juvenile secure estate
    (young offender institutions, secure training centres and local
    authority secure children’s homes) for young people sentenced or
    remanded to custody.

    The act provided youth justice agencies with a host of new
    interventions and punishments to tackle youth crime. These

    • Local child curfew schemes to ban children from certain
    • Child safety orders to provide targeted intervention with
      children under 10 at risk of getting into trouble.
    • Antisocial behaviour orders to deal with serious, but not
      necessarily criminal, behaviour by children aged 10 and above.
    • Reparation orders to force young offenders to make amends to
      the victim or the community.
    • Action plan orders to tackle offending behaviour and its
    • Parenting orders to require parents to attend compulsory
      counselling or guidance, with fines for breaches.
    • Detention and training orders to provide a flexible custodial
    • Referral orders for first-time offenders who plead guilty and
      do not require a custodial sentence. A contract is drawn up with
      the young offender and parents to tackle the offending

    Found dead in their cells

    A total of 180 young people aged 21 and under have committed
    suicide in prisons and YOIs since 1990. A third were aged 18 or
    under, seven were aged 16, three were just 15 years old, and 15
    were female. All but a handful hanged themselves. A further 19
    deaths were not self-inflicted, including six homicides. 

    Below is a list of the young people who killed themselves in a
    prison or YOI during 2003. Apart from Sarah Campbell, who took an
    overdose, all hanged themselves. 

    • Clinton Rixon, 21, remanded,  HMP Dorchester. 
    • Leanne Gidney, 18, convicted,  HMP Brockhill. 
    • Sarah Campbell, 18, convicted,  HMP & YOI Styal. 
    • Clare Parsons, 20, convicted,  HMYOI Eastwood Park. 
    • Jennifer Clifford, 19, convicted,  HMP & YOI Bullwood
    • Paul Alan Watson, 20, convicted, HMYOI Castington. 
    • Mark McNamara, 20, convicted, HMYOI Swinfen Hall. 
    • Andrew Barclay, 20, convicted,  HMP Norwich. 
    • Benjamin Townsend, 19, convicted, HMP Norwich. 
    • Brian Smith, 20, convicted,   HMYOI Aylesbury. 
    • Mohammed bin Duhri, 19, HMP Belmarsh. 
    • Daniel Blake, 21, remanded,  HMP Woodhill. 
    • Petra Blanksby, 19, remanded,   HMP New Hall. 

    Two more young offenders also died in 2003: Gary Jones, 20, had
    a fit while on remand at HMP Parc, and Lee David Humphreys, 21, had
    a brain haemorrhage while on remand at HMP Swansea.  

    During 2004, the following have died: 

    • Philip Rustell, 19, remanded,  HMP & YOI Reading. 
    • James Skelly, 18, convicted,  HMYOI Portland. 
    • Sajjad Hussain, 20, remanded, HMYOI Lancaster Farms. 
    • Jason Wright, 20, convicted, cause of death waiting
      classification, HMP Doncaster.

    “He thought he was going to suffocate”

    Julia Sanders* is a middle-class single parent whose 16-year-old
    adopted son has already had one spell in a young offender
    institution and another in a secure training centre. In the latest
    incident he was arrested after an argument at home got out of

    “I got Daniel* when he was one and we think the world of each
    other, but over the years it has become clear that neglect in the
    first 12 months of his life has left him a very damaged individual.
    He doesn’t know how to deal with his anger. Just about the worst
    thing to do to someone with low self-esteem like him is lock them
    away in one of these ghastly institutions. 

    “He was sent to Huntercombe, an ex-Borstal near Henley that’s
    really grim. The previous occupant of his cell had smeared it with
    excrement but when my son asked for cleaning materials, none were
    brought for 10 days.  

    “There were problems with discipline on his wing and he was
    often locked up for 23 hours at a time. He was just left to his own
    devices with nothing to do for days on end. The staff do their best
    and there are a few highly motivated individuals but you are very
    lucky if you come across one. Daniel had some sessions with a great
    probation officer who was skilled in anger management but you can
    wait years to get to see someone.  

    “When kids go into these places the first week is very scary for
    them, especially the first time, but after that they move into
    survival mode and the fear begins to fade. He had a spell in
    Rainsbrook secure training centre where Gareth Myatt died recently
    after being restrained. It frightens me because Daniel was also
    restrained there and vomited while it was happening. He told me he
    thought he was going to suffocate. I just think it’s outrageous to
    treat children like that.  

    “Custody has done nothing to help my son. He has witnessed
    horrendous fighting and been put in with others who have committed
    armed robbery, murder – the lot. It’s just not the right way to
    treat a vulnerable young person.” 

    *Names have been changed

    “All help for the child in need disappeared

    Yvonne Scholes’s son Joseph was 16 years old and nine days into
    his sentence when he took his own life at Stoke Heath Young
    Offender Institution in Shropshire. 

    Before being taken into custody he had experienced violence at
    home and allegedly been raped by a member of his father’s family.
    He also suffered from mental health problems including

    “Because of all that, plus the fact that witnesses to the street
    robbery he was involved in said he was just a bystander, it came as
    a shock when he received the maximum sentence for his age and crime
    after pleading guilty,” says his mother.  

    “We are pushing for a public inquiry into his death because we
    don’t think people realise where they are sending these vulnerable
    children and what they go through. We also want more done for
    families. We were offered a chaplain, which we declined, and then
    received no support at all. After police broke the news I was
    vomiting and unable to drive to the hospital to see his body and I
    had to call a family member in Manchester to come and get me.
    Having talked to other families like ours I believe we are
    suffering post-traumatic stress disorder.” 

    Yvonne later discovered her son had torn out his own fingernails
    before hanging himself. He had the word “mum” scratched onto his

    “I believe my son’s case illustrates the failings of the
    authorities right the way from police to social services. Joseph
    changed from a victim to a criminal the moment he was sentenced and
    all the help for the child in need disappeared overnight.”

    Facts and figures

    • The number of 15-17 year olds in prison has nearly doubled over
      the last 10 years. 
    • England and Wales lock up more children than any other European
      country, with 3,000 in prison at any one time. 
    • On 5 March 2004, there were 11,019 under-21s in prisons in
      England and Wales, including 2,565 under-18s. 
    • In 1999, 80 per cent of 14-17 year olds released from prison
      were reconvicted within two years.  
    • About 85 per cent of 16-20 year olds in prison show signs of a
      personality disorder, and 10 per cent show signs of psychotic
      illness such as schizophrenia. 
    • Almost one-third of young offenders have been in local
      authority care at some point in their lives. 
    • More than 60 per cent of young offenders left school before
      they were 16, and four in 10 have literacy levels below that of the
      average seven year old. 
    • Nearly 30 per cent of young women in prison say they have been
      sexually abused. 
    • Between April 2000 and December 2002 only 279 children in
      custody achieved a single GCSE, and just three passed an
    • Between April 2000 and January 2002, 4,437 young offenders were
      segregated, with 976 locked up alone for more than one week. 
    • Control and restraint techniques were used 3,615 times during
      the same period.

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