Prison no place for vulnerable young offender, High Court hears

None of the professionals involved in the case of young offender Joseph Scholes recommended to the court that he should go to prison, the High Court heard today.

At the judicial review into the government’s refusal to hold a public inquiry into Joseph’s death at Stoke Heath young offender institution, barrister Tim Owen QC said he should have been placed in a local authority secure children’s home.

Joseph, 16 who had a history of self-harm, was found hanging from his cell in March 2002. 

Owen, who is representing Joseph’s mother Yvonne Scholes, told the court there were “question marks” over the policy of sending vulnerable young people to “unsafe” detention centres when they had committed minor crimes.

Although Joseph had been on the “periphery” of three street robberies in Manchester, he had to be locked up under sentencing guidelines drawn up by the then Chief Justice, Lord Woolf, the High Court in London heard.

Owen said: “If asked to say what was the principle cause of Joseph’s death, it would be hardly surprising that the answer would be given – the sentencing regime.”

Joseph had been self-harming since 1998 and had slashed himself in the face just two weeks before he was sentenced.

Although he was initially put in a cell with surveillance cameras, he was soon moved to one without them and the number of times he was observed by staff  was reduced, the court heard.

Opposing the challenge, Neil Garham QC, for the Home Office, argued that a public inquiry into Joseph’s death would be “umanageable,” “too slow” and “inefficient,” adding that all requirements surrounding the investigation had been “adequately fulfilled.”

The case, due to last two days, continues.

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