Mother to challenge sentencing policies for vulnerable young offenders

Policies around the sentencing of young offenders are to come
under scrutiny after the mother of a 16-year-old boy who committed
suicide in a young offender institution won the first round of her
battle for a public inquiry into his death.

Joseph Scholes was just nine days into a two-year sentence for
street robbery when he took his own life at Stoke Heath YOI in
March 2002.

His mother, Yvonne Scholes, has always claimed Joseph should not
have been sent there in the first place given his extreme
vulnerability and history of self-harm. But the Home Office has
refused her demands for a public inquiry into his case.

Her QC, Tim Owen, told the High Court that key issues regarding
Joseph’s death remained unresolved despite the inquest. These
include the sentencing policy that resulted in Joseph being
detained in conditions “that gave rise to an unacceptable
risk of suicide”, the reasons for allocating him to a YOI
rather than a local authority secure children’s home (Lasch),
and the extent to which a lack of resources contributed to that

This week Mr Justice Newman declared Yvonne Scholes’ case
“arguable”, opening the way for a full judicial
challenge to the home secretary’s refusal to order a public
inquiry. He said a full hearing of the case should take place as
soon as possible.

The ruling coincided with the publication of a report by the
European Commissioner for Human Rights in which he criticised the
prison service for failing in its duty towards juvenile inmates,
arguing that too many vulnerable children were being placed in YOIs
who ought to be in Laschs.

“There are too many young offenders in custody doing too
little in overcrowded and stressful conditions,” Alvaro
Gil-Robles said.

However, the government said the commissioner’s report
contained factual inaccuracies and that he had visited only one YOI
while preparing it.

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