Sixty Second interview with Frances Crook
By Amy Taylor
Frances Crook is the director of the Howard League for Penal Reform which last week called for evidence for an inquiry into the treatment of children in prisons.
What is the inquiry and why are you doing it?
The inquiry is examining the use of physical restraint, solitary confinement and forcible strip-searching of children in prisons, secure training centres and local authority secure children’s homes. It was prompted by the death of 15-year-old Gareth Myatt whilst he was being restrained by three members of staff in a privately run secure training centre, but builds on serious concerns about the treatment of children in custody following research the Howard League for Penal Reform has undertaken.
What do you hope to achieve through the inquiry?
The inquiry is independently led Lord Carlile QC and whilst we have asked him to make recommendations, it would not be appropriate for me to pre-empt them. However, we all hope to contribute to the improved care of vulnerable and challenging children.
There are suggestions the secure estate might be privatised. How do you feel about that?
The Howard League for Penal Reform considers it unethical to make a profit from locking up children.
What are your biggest fears for children in prison today?
Their safety, their wellbeing and their future.
Which political party’s manifesto is the most geared towards a child-friendly environment in prisons?
We would prefer to see political leaders promising to abolish the use of prisons for children and that local authorities would care for those very few children who have committed serious and violent offences and who continue to represent a danger to the community. Prisons can never present a child-friendly environment.
How would you overhaul the current youth justice system and why?
I would limit its scope so that very few children come within its ambit. Welfare and wellbeing should be the remit of health, housing, education, social services and voluntary groups caring for children. The age of criminal responsibility should be raised to 16. It is strange that a child is considered too young to smoke a cigarette at 15-years-old and yet can be held in a prison. The criminal justice and youth justice systems should only deal with young people over 16 and should have their welfare at its heart.
The Labour party has recently announced that it wants the voluntary sector to bid jointly with private companies to run young offender institutions. What do you think about these plans?
Lunacy. The respected voluntary organisations would never compete to lock up children.
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