‘Cut numbers of young people in jail’

    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
    them.”

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