Community Care’s youth justice campaign calling
for a dramatic reduction in the number of children sent to prison
received overwhelming support from campaigners in the youth justice
field last week.
Speaking at the launch of the Back on Track campaign, Prison
Reform Trust director Juliet Lyon highlighted the “mad dichotomy”
of society’s view of children as criminals once they had
offended and no longer as children in need.
She warned that these children had paid the price of the
government’s tough stance on street crime and antisocial
behaviour, and were the group who had fallen through the gaps in
health and other services.
The campaign wants to achieve a drastic reduction in suicides
and self-harm among young people in custody by encouraging more
involvement of social workers and removing vulnerable people from
prisons (news, page 6, 8 July).
Community Care is also calling for the treatment of
children in custody to conform to the United Nations Convention on
the Rights of the Child and for the degrading practices of routine
strip searches and inappropriate control and restraint to end.
Yvonne Scholes, whose son Joseph hanged himself nine days into
his two-year prison sentence at Stoke Heath Young Offender
Institution in Shropshire, told the launch how he was forced to
wear an item of clothing “not unlike a horse blanket” under which
he was naked.
“My child was subjected to degrading and inhuman treatment and
others continue to be,” she said.
The campaign also calls for the age of criminal responsibility
to be raised from 10. Chris Stanley, head of youth crime at
rehabilitation agency Nacro, said that in Scandinavia, where the
age of criminal responsibility is 15, young children who offended
were put into the welfare system for support.
“Our criminal justice system has a very poor record of reducing
crime,” he said.
Bobby Cummines, chief executive of the ex-offenders charity
Unlock, added: “Custody should be a last resort, not a first
resort. These are misguided kids. Instead of looking at where they
have failed us, we need to look at where society has failed