Pressure builds in Scotland to end detention of children in adult prisons

Children’s rights campaigners in Scotland have backed calls for an
end to juvenile detention in adult prisons.

It follows comments made last week by the Scottish chief inspector
of prisons criticising the practice at Kilmarnock prison.

Dr Andrew McLellan said the prison “regularly finds itself forced
to contain children” and even though none were present during the
inspection, at one stage last year there were five being held at
the same time.

“The normal practice is that they are held in the prison’s health
centre. There is no reason to believe that they are not treated
properly: but there are very good reasons to believe that children
should not be in prison,” McLellan added.

Scottish children’s commissioner Kathleen Marshall said she was
concerned by the situation and was looking into the reasons why it
was happening.

Susan Matheson, chief executive of the crime reduction charity
Sacro, said detention in prison for even short periods of time
could be damaging for children.

“The health centre must have adults in it as well and trying to
keep children segregated and give them the support they need must
be very difficult for prison staff. The early period in custody is
very important and is when children are most likely to take their
own life – they are very vulnerable,” she added.

Scottish prison service figures show that during 2003 22 children
aged under-16 were held in all forms of custody – including police
cells, prisons or young offender institutions – 21 per cent of
which were for 14 days or more.

A Scottish executive spokesperson said it was sometimes necessary
to detain children in prison for short periods – “for a few hours
or overnight” – while transport was arranged to permanent
placements or if a Sheriff deemed they were a particular danger to
themselves or the public.

“We want to avoid this happening and it is only used in exceptional
circumstances. Every effort is made to keep [the stay] as short as
possible and they are held in a segregated area,” she added.

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