‘Prison is damaging young people’

The mother of a 16-year-old boy who committed suicide while in a
young offender institution has called on the government to stop
putting children in prison.

Joseph Scholes was just nine days into his sentence for street
robbery when he took his own life at Stoke Heath Young Offender
Institution in Shropshire in March 2002.

He hanged himself after tying a sheet to the bars of his cell
window. He had torn out his fingernails and scratched the word
“mum” onto his leg.

His mother, Yvonne, wants a public inquiry. She said that
Joseph’s case was not an isolated tragedy but an example of
the “long term and ongoing systemic abuse of vulnerable children
detained in unsafe conditions within our prison estate”.

She added that while children should be called to account for
their wrongdoing, society must respect their needs.

“These most vulnerable of children should receive community
based interventions on programmes designed and supervised by people
whose attitude is one of respect for the child’s rights,” she

However, custody may be the only option for some crimes, she
said. A network of locally based secure units should be developed
for this “very small number of children”, who should be supported
by trained staff.

Scholes was speaking at the launch of Back on Track, a campaign
by Community Care magazine to reduce the number of children and
young people held in custody.

A survey of youth justice workers revealed that nearly seven in
10 had worked with young offenders who had considered or attempted
suicide while in prison. More than 90 per cent said that custody
worsens existing mental health problems.

– For more about the Back on Track campaign go to www.communitycare.co.uk/backontrack

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